Grand Puba – Retroactive
If I were to write a book of hip hop’s best emcees, unquestionably, Grand Puba would occupy a space in the pages. As one-fourth of Brand Nubian, Puba contributed many of the stand out verses to golden era classic One for All and the late 90′s banger Foundation. He was also no slouch on the solo tip, releasing two critically acclaimed, if not over-looked albums: Reel to Reel in ’93 and 2000 in ’95. Blessed with one of the most distinct voices over the microphone, Grand Puba has an incredible ability to speak on a range of topics, while also being one of the first wordsmiths to play with the rap-sing style, so prevalent on today’s rap records, while staying rooted in his 5 percent philosophies. I would have no qualms saying that Puba’s effortless delivery, charismatic cadence, and witty word play has understatedly influenced rappers such as Biggie, Kanye, Phonte, and many others. Now on Babygrande, and 8 years after the forgettable Understand This, Puba releases the solid RetroActive.
The album’s pace and tone are pretty much set from jump with “I See Dead People”, featuring Rell and long time partner in rhyme Lord Jamar. Puba uses the track to speak on the dire circumstances and masked histories of Black people in the ghetto. From there the album’s head nod factor is kept steady with songs “Hunny”, “It Is What It Is”, and “Get That Money”, which touch on topics like respectable women, mackin’, and hustlin’ for the loot; while the song “How Long?”, a solemn ode to systemic cycles of Black on Black violence, even incorporates auto-tune on the hook, but stays within the album’s sonic trajectory. Than there are “Good To Go” and “Same Old Drama”, undoubtedly RetroActive’s stand out cuts. The former has Puba and Q-Tip stylin’ all over the ass-shaking disco thump of a thick bass line chop, while the later has Puba sharing mic time with the sometimes you see me, most of the time you don’t Extra P. Here two of rap’s best voices wax political about the various struggles people face within modern America.
Yet, as the second half of the album rolls along, interest begins to wane. The dance floor readied “This Joint Right Here” and “Cold Cold World” come off sounding generic. And while there is not wack or “WTF was Puba thinking” moments on the album, RetroActive does come off sounding a bit tepid. Songs seem to just bleed into each other committed obsessively to the verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure, as concepts and experimentation are no where to be found. Ultimately, RetroActive will likely not gain Puba many new fans, but it will also not alienate his core base. A solid album with strong moments, RetroActive’s biggest testimony shines through in that its release is nearly 20 years after we heard Grand Puba co-create One for All back in 1990. And if we praise LL, Too Short and Snoop for there longevity, Grand Puba deserves a space right next to them.