It’s been seven years since New York’s Brand Nubian emcee Grand Puba released his last solo album, Retroactive (2009), and before that, it was eight years since his third, Understand This (2001). The time gaps become less widespread as you go through his catalog in reverse chronological order. Tomorrow, Friday April 15, Black From The Future, Puba’s fifth LP as an individual act will be released for sale via Babygrande Records. It’s encouraging to see Puba back on the scene in rap form, but throughout Black From The Future, his old order of business has hardly changed. Over productions favoring a few styles, he still echoes five percenter rhetoric, advancing language for black awareness, and other social commentary, and while some of his ideas are right on, others seem misconceived, and overall he’s avoided more challenging rocky routes in favor of smoother familiar ones.
Getting right into it, Puba expresses disappointment in society in “UDK (U Don’t Know),” criticizing cosmetic surgery and bodily augmentation, apathy among church leaders but most alarmingly, and seemingly without base, the gay community. It hurts that that misconception appears straight out the gate, and the honky, fart-like sustained squawk underlaying the beat there announces Grand Puba’s entry into the album as an old fart in the game sounding off however he pleases, bravely uninhibited or otherwise. In later parts, he fractionally makes up for that blundering faux pas of negatively opining on homosexuals with other thoughts. Helpful tips on improving black lives like unification and organization plus the idea of people over self dot the ensuing stretch, but it isn’t long before Puba makes another small misstep. In “Respect,” he raps about black foreign history but spews on about a conspiratorial coverup of black culture by the influential and powerful, an equally could-be-true though unevenly crackpot theory and tactic placed in order to forward his own personal agenda and perhaps also to spark an immediate response in listeners it would appear.
The rest is devoted to Puba’s signature tender loving romantic feelings and such in “Think of U” and “Be Mine,” a goodbye to a mischievous girlfriend in “It’s Over,” of course some braggadocio and various little pieces of filler here and there. All throughout, Puba doesn’t stretch his rhyming abilities adequately. He’s taken the easy path poetically in terms of speed, type, variation, and really every other facet of vocal/verbal delivery. The music comes from either various combinations of beat-making program synths, doo-woppy ’50s swing, or reggae and if samples have played a major role in the production, they have been diced, chopped and blended in so well that it’s a task to decipher them out, but this is traditional terrain for Puba and his producers here overall once again. Besides the man of the hour himself, the other members of the sound staff are PhD, Big Sproxx and Vance Wright, while Isis Aja and Khadijah Muhammad serve as guests. In totality, Black From The Future is sadly a far cry from Puba’s past greatness.