Lost in all the warm fuzzies that now abound about hip-hop's late '80s-early '90s golden era is acknowledgment that it was also the brief musical heyday of the Five Percenters, a group of artists united by their adherence to a radical branch of the Nation of Islam. And none represented the philosophy more successfully than Brand Nubian, whose "Drop the Bomb" set the gold standard for white-baiting. The go-go-fueled threat troubled even some industry liberals, but it was drawn from a debut (1990's One for All) now acknowledged as a hip-hop classic, thanks to DJ Alamo's richly musical settings and the in-your-face rhymes of Grand Puba, Lord Jamar, and Sadat X.
The foursome joined forces again this year to make Fire in the Hole, a reflective set that casts them as wise old heads advising today's MCs about the game's many pitfalls. Minus Puba, who appeared on only a single track, the resurrected Brand Nubian is touring worldwide. How the trio balances its reasoned new material with the rabble-rousing past that produced "Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down" should guarantee an intriguing evening.