When Brand Nubian dropped their debut album (One for All) in 1990, the hip-hop landscape was a very different beast. Gold chains were still the flossy standard, Puffy was an intern at Uptown Records and the only time you could see a rap video on television was on Yo! MTV Raps. But despite the changing seasons, Grand Puba, Sadat X, Lord Jamar and DJ Alamo remain enduringly relevant reminders of hip-hop's golden era.

They made a name for themselves with a sound halfway between the angry militancy of Public Enemy and the daisy-age of De La Soul. "We were a little bit more radical than the groups in Native Tongues," Puba recalls, "but it was a positive movement back then and everything was brotherly. It was a lot more unity." Unfortunately, Brand Nubian's unity as a group proved short-lived. Despite both public and critical acclaim, Puba left the group after One for All.

Sadat and Jamar released two more records under the Brand Nubian moniker, while Puba released two solo records of his own, but by 1998, Puba says, "it was time to put things back together again." The reunion album, Foundation, was embraced by critics and the newly emerging hip-hop underground, but failed to gain wide support from mainstream radio and video programmers. No matter, says Sadat, as "radio is not going to make or break Brand Nubian."

Now, six years later, the group thinks the time may once again be right for their message; a new album, Fire in the Hole, was released in August, on which the core trio of Sadat, Jamar and Puba is again assisted by the presence of DJ Alamo, who lends his skills to several cuts.

While money and ice have had their days as hip-hop's holy grails, Jamar wonders, "How much more diamonds can you wear or how much bigger can your rims get before you need a ladder to get in your car?" They consider artists like Dead Prez and Kanye West indicative of a resurgence in conscious hip-hop. Sadat is confident Brand Nubian's sound can be updated effectively, saying, "We've always been able to change and grow with the times. A lot of old rappers get mad, saying they don't get the respect, but you've got to earn the respect. You got to study what's going on ... and come out with something comparable to what's out today."

More by Chris Hall


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