Brand Spankin' Nu

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Brand Nubian and Gleem toothpaste -- Where's the analogy?

One cleaned teeth better than any other toothpaste. The other cleaned hip-hop clocks better than most other groups. One was too strong for its competition and some of its consumers. The other was too strong and progressive for an industry still learning to market the then-ever-expanding creativity of hip-hop culture.

Then, without warning, one vanished. And the other followed suit.

Over the course of seven years and five releases from Brand Nubian's splintered roster, each member proved he could survive as a solo artist, producer or as part of a modified Brand Nubian. But after the classic debut, One For All, the solo albums all had the quality of junk food. Great taste but, in the long run, you still felt malnourished.

Understand something: The personalities of Grand Puba (the braggart), Sadat X (the boyish homie) and Lord Jamar (the radical rebel) clash like colors in a box of crayons. But this motley blend produced the most uncanny mix of skills and talent since the X-Men. And no one could top the style. That's what makes Foundation, the first score from the original lineup in eight years, wildly exciting.

The personalities, the inventiveness, the thought-provoking lyrics, the beats -- they're all back, along with a new aura of maturity and reconciliation. Where split personalities and vision led to disbanding before the debut was even released, humility, pride and respect are the main themes of Foundation. The advice offered on "Don't Let it Go to Your Head" goes down easy. When Jamar advises, "I heard your single on the Battle of the Beats/It won five nights/I bet you had the time of your life ... but it could all bust just like a blood clot," hints of personal experience provide an authentic atmosphere for the entire verse.

The pro-black, playful stances remain intact, but now with a more confident approach. Brand Nubian takes less time to dis "blue-eyed devils," exerting more energy on productive self-analysis. As always, the lyrical arrangements are top-notch and will help you get past some of the softer R&B samples. Still, put a brace on your neck before listening to "The Beat Change." It'll snap that joint in typical Nubian fashion.

Foundation solves my personal Year 2000 problem. Leave it to the old-school crews to keep real hip hop compliant with your standards. Now, if Gleem can just get its shit together.

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