Brand Nubian | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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In late 1991 Brand Nubian's standout MC Grand Puba lit out for a solo career, DJ Alamo in tow, in apparent disregard for the title of the Afrocentric crew's sole album, One for All. Puba's two subsequent Elektra albums were disappointments--though slightly more rewarding than the pair Sadat X and Lord Jamar would release as Brand Nubian--and the group went into the books as one of hip-hop's most celebrated instances of genius interruptus. Now the full crew is back with a new disc (Fire in the Hole), a new label (Babygrande), and a new sociological explanation of their career vagaries: "Black people as a whole have a problem sticking together," Jamar recently told, "so why would you expect some rap groups to be different than society?" Unlike so many socially conscious rap acts, Brand Nubian doesn't preach so much as relate. These MCs sound like guys batting around opinions in a barbershop: the harshly personal "I been a friend to a lot of dead niggas" (on "Just Don't Learn") cuts deeper than any screed, and lines like "I used to think you beat me for some shit that my daddy did" keep the sweet love letter "Momma" from drowning in sentimentality. Even when the group isn't quoting the story line of Sly Stone's "Family Affair" or swiping the hook and title wholesale from the Five Stairsteps' "Ooh Child," a 70s soul feel is pervasive, both sonically and in the mood of weary persistence. But of course, any place men gather without women they're sure to spout foolishness. No intricacy of rhyme scheme excuses gripes about "suspicious...bitches" who are "uncapable of washing the dishes," and there's got to be a better way to refer to date rape than "that bullshit they hit Kobe with." With Immortal Technique, Dynamic Vibrations, and Record Playas. $17 in advance; $19 at the door. Saturday, August 28, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499.

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