In late 1990, Brand Nubian made a great first impression on the hip-hop community with their debut album All For One. Grand Puba Maxwell, Lord Jamar, and Sadat (or sometimes Derek) X’s, combination of solid rhymes, black consciousness, 5 percent teachings, and dope hip-hop beats, had the trio pulling in heaps of critical acclaim. And just when it appeared the threesome were getting ready to take over the game, their chief emcee Grand Puba, decided it was time to leave the group and pursue his solo career.
In hindsight, this shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, considering the whole second side of One For All was pretty much a Puba solo album. Regardless, the once front man for Masters Of Ceremony had decided it was time to move on, from his second group in less than two years, and would sign a solo deal with Elektra (the same label Brand Nubian was signed to at the time), releasing his debut album in the fall of 1992, Reel To Reel. Puba, who also had a large part to do with the production on One For All, would produce the majority of Reel To Reel, with a little assistance from a few friends.
Puba would release one more solo album (1995’s 2000) before reuniting with Brand Nubian to release their 1998 album Foundation and 2004’s Fire In The Hole (if you want, you can throw Time Is Runnin’ Out in that group as the 4th album with Puba [and 6th Brand Nubian album overall], though most of the material was recorded prior to Foundation but wasn’t released until 2007). Puba would release another solo album in between Foundation and Fire In The Hole (2001’s Understand This), and Retroactive in 2009; the latter which I bought a year or so ago but still have not listened to. But I digress. For now, we focus on Reel To Reel.
Check Tha Resume – Grand Puba starts off the show with a Funk Inc. drum loop mixed with a soulful Otis Redding sample and some nasty trunk rattling bass. Which all combine to form the perfect canvas for Puba to spill his verbals all over, and put his sick flow on display.
360° (What Goes Around) – This was the first single released from Reel To Reel. Over another simple but solid Puba production, are host spits more of his superior freestyle rhymes.
That’s How We Move It – Puba brings in one of his old Masters Of Ceremony brethren, DJ Shabazz, to produce this one and it’s pretty solid. If you’re looking for songs with a focused topic, you’ve come to the wrong spot. Puba’s lyrics are pretty much interchangeable between songs, but he still makes them entertaining to listen to.
Check It Out – This was the second single from Reel To Reel. Mary J Blige stops by to repay Puba for his contribution on the title track of her classic album What’s The 411? On the original collabo the two had a loose concept: Puba spits a verse (though he steers slightly off course) to get with Mary, who then offers a response (through rhyme), before the two break into singing a portion of Debra Laws’ “Very Special” on the final verse. This time around, Puba spits random lines that never amount too much, while Mary just sings ad libs in between Puba’s rhymes. What’s The 411? also had a dope backdrop; Puba attempts to construct something similar on this one but it comes out sounding a bit empty. This is easily my least favorite song on Reel To Reel.
Big Kids Don’t Play – This Puba produced backdrop is one of my favorites; and Puba’s sick flow is on full display.
Honey Don’t Front – Finally a song that Puba actually has a specific topic for. Puba dedicates this one to his favorite subject: hittin’ the skins. Not a terrible song, but not one of my favorites, either.
Lickshot – Speaking of favorites, this is easily my favorite song on Reel To Reel. Puba and the Stimulated Dummies hook up a sick instrumental built around a loop from Byrdie Green’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”, and Puba goes hard all over it.
Ya Know How It Goes – I love everything about this bouncy Puba produced instrumental. I know I’m starting to sound like a ball washer, but he makes spitting sound so easy, as he skates all over this track like its second nature.
Reel To Reel – Puba uses the same Lou Donaldson loop Showbiz hooked up for Lord Finesse’s “Stop Sweating The Next Man”; only Puba’s interpretation is nicer and his flow ethers Finesse’s. Yeah, I said it.
Soul Controller – Puba temporarily leaves his playful boasts and skins talk alone to get conscious, as he discusses the “devil”, racism, religion, and hood politics. Back in the day this Latief produced instrumental sounded a lot more effective than it does today; it almost sounds hollow now.
Proper Education – Over a reggae tinged instrumental, Puba chants about the white man’s “tricknology” and how they discreetly uses it on the black man’s subconscious to keep us dumb, deaf, and blind. This is dope, and has aged well. And why does the black jelly bean always taste the worst?
Back It Up – Puba and Kid Capri get the co-production credit on this one, and share microphone duties as well. The instrumental is decent, but Puba is the true star of this one, as he drops arguably his best verse on Reel To Reel. I’m still scratching my head to why Puba didn’t close the song out instead of it ending with Kid Capri’s mediocre verse. But, whatever.
Baby What’s Your Name? – Puba hooks up a lovely instrumental built around a Donny Hathaway loop, as he attempts to sing about a tender young thing he wants to get better acquainted with. Even though Puba can’t sing, he still manages to vibe well with the instrumental, making this enjoyable.
The following two songs are listed as bonus tracks on the cd version of Reel To Reel:
360° (What Goes Around) SD50 Remix – The Stimulated Dummies are responsible for this remix. I’m not really a fan of it. It’s not that it’s terrible, it just doesn’t add anything special to the original.
Who Makes The Loot? – This was originally released on Brand New Heavies’ Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol. 1. Click here to read my thoughts on this song.
In my opinion, Grand Puba Maxwell is one the greatest to ever do it. His lyrical content was never too complex, yet he was able to flip simple words with a complexity that is rarely matched. And when it comes to delivery and flow, even fewer are fuckin’ with Puba’s smooth and polished presentation; on Reel To Reel all of Puba’s attributes are on full display. Similar to his lyrical content, Puba and company keep the instrumentals simple yet quality. If Reel To Reel has any set backs it would be on the conceptual side, since with the exception of three songs, it’s pretty much one long freestyle over different beats. Yet and still, a solid solo debut from an underrated hip-hop legend.