Fire In The Hole
fter a six-year hiatus, this is what we get: twelve tracks. Pretty paltry for a hip-hop album nowadays. With so much downtime between albums, it’s easy to forget about Brand Nubian. Their prospects of group success dimmed immediately after the release of their first (and, as is the case with most rap groups, their most fondly remembered) album, One For All, when they split to pursue other projects. Since then, each reunion album (stamped with the obligatory “long awaited” tag) has seemed less like a comeback and more like a strength-in-numbers restatement of purpose made to their core audience in hopes of rejuvenating each individual member’s personal career.
The strategy has worked for Grand Puba and Sadat X, who have developed two of the most recognizable flows in hip-hop. Even passive hip-hop fans should remember their contribution to the indie-friendly Handsome Boy Modeling School album, “Once Again”. Sadat’s voice, a high-pitched nasally slur, may be Brand Nubian’s best asset, and unlike Grand Puba, Sadat continues to pen great lines. He steals the show on “Young Son”, comparing the lives of two brothers with antithetical destinies. “’Chips off the whole block’, Pops would say. One’s on the court, one’s in court all day… One wants to be and one needs an attorney”.
We’ve come to expect these spirited moments of keen observation and wordplay from classic new-school MCs, but I’ve also expected Brand Nubian to at least begin to show hints of maturity. Unfortunately, even when they attempt to paint a serious social commentary, they can’t seem to suppress their sophomoric potty humor. They’d get away with it, if it was funny, but on Fire In The Hole it’s as crass and charmless as a Howard Stern punchline. On the otherwise strong “Just Don’t Learn”, Grand Puba offers viable advice to aging gang bangers but slips at the last moment into misogyny. “Time out, put all that killing to a drought… and shorty stop stumbling around with all those dicks in your mouth.” It’s an observation that has absolutely nothing to do with the narrative and typifies the strain of lyrical laziness found throughout the album.
Fire In The Hole starts off promisingly strong with the album’s most immediate and catchy song, “Who Wanna Be A Star?”, providing the album with Lord Jamar’s best production. Unfortunately, the album peaks there. At least its subsequent decline in quality is slow and steady rather than dramatic. The first third is actually stellar. After that though, we’re offered some derivative tracks like “Momma” and failed concepts like the closing “Soldier’s Story”, which utilizes a cavalry snare drum to predictable effect. And their unnecessary rewrite of The Five Stairstep’s “Ooh Child”, fails as miserably as a Puffy sample, inspiring you to hit the stop button and seek out the original.
I expect these highs and lows from most hip-hop albums. In fact, I respect most artists who throw their material out there in abundance and wait to see what sticks with their fan base. When you have a lot to say, it’s easy to become infatuated with your work, causing you to use less discretion in the editing room. However, some healthy self-criticism and succinct precision can be your best tool when creating an album. But after six years and twelve spotty tracks, it’s obvious Fire In The Hole is a work of artists with priorities other than Brand Nubian on their minds.
Reviewed by: Gabe Gloden
Reviewed on: 2004-09-09