Slowed Down

On their first album in years, Brand Nubian don't rock the set.

When East Coast hip-hop diehards start getting handed dollar bills for every time their Native Tongues–era heroes churn out faded-sounding attempted career resuscitations, there'll be a lot of thirty-something heads wearing spankin' new throwback Adidas. Within the first 15 seconds of the first Brand Nubian CD to be released in six years, the listener is presented with the laziest scratch ever (think "background music for a technical-college commercial attempting street cred") and the once-nimble Sadat X rhyming "moon" with guess which month. There's a certain kind of weariness that bogs down Fire in the Hole (Babygrande), the sound of a crew worn down by a tumultuous, breakup-laden history, lightning-rod sociopolitical buck-the-devil controversy, and the ravages of time.

As a result, there's not much left to say, and few ways left to say it. The album's thematic turf's been well trod (in case you forgot: chickenheads and studio gangstas can't be trusted, not to mention that it helps to, you know, get up and make something of yourself), and the lyrics seem to exist more as conduits for Sadat's and Grand Puba's still-resonant voices than as any attempts to create a new portfolio of hip-hop quotables. All of which would be forgivable enough if Lord Jamar's first-draft beats remembered how to rock instead of slog—but no dice. "Coming Years" is shockingly derivative even for an obligatory Kanye West knockoff; the gooey plasticine Moog hiccup-riff on "Whatever Happened . . . ?" is too shrill to get blunted with and too staccato to bob your head to. And "Got a Knot" is simply the most irritating use ever of Cerrone's "Rocket in the Pocket" break. Punks jump up to get let down.

Brand Nubian play Chop Suey with Oddjobs and Sharkey at 9 p.m. Fri., Sept. 10. $13 adv.

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