The albums intros with single "Black Hand Side," a strong lead-in from producer S.I.D. containing a lofi, deep rolling bass that commonly characterized the lower frequencies of boom bap production styles. It is a deeply rich cultural track of hip-hop braggadocio, gesticulations, and nuts-grabbing that represents the best aesthetics and social symbols of its period.
The album included singles "Just Another Day..." and "U.N.I.T.Y.," the former of which would become an anthem of inner-city Black proletarian life. It is an ode transcending the coastal polarization in hip-hop that was in the early stages of maturation in its appeal to the most obscure hoods. In fact, in the early '90s HBO released a documentary called "Bangin' in Little Rock" that captured the emergence of the Crip, Folk, and Blood forms of street organization in Arkansas. Latifah's "Just..." was played as a crucial part of the soundtrack of the film. She raps, "I pray there's a hood in heaven" revealing the humanist potentiality of moments of social and cultural existence in the ghetto.
The ghetto is indeed a prison but it can be only destroyed by its inhabitants, not the technocratic elite hellbent instead on destroying the reproductive capacity of Black folk and not the so-called reformers who can only manage, in more progressive language, the current conditions. "Just..." shows us why, in its embrace of the communal threads that formed the scaffold of the Black rebellion of today.
An album full of popular slogans, "U.N.I.T.Y." is another infectious one that finds an articulation of a spontaneous Black proletarian feminism. Kay Gee, producer and DJ for Naughty by Nature, and who with NbN hails from the same hood as Latifah--East Orange, New Jersey--provided the beats. While contradictory and trapped in the abstraction of gender, particularly with its ironic disdain of the Black "butch," "U.N.I.T.Y." in other regards stands in diametric contrast to academic forms of feminism that make a fetish of words. As Latifah lectures to brothers calling women "bitches" and "hoes",
"Now everybody knows there's exception to this rule/ I don't be gettin mad when we playin', its cool/ But don't you be calling me out my name/ I bring wrath to those who disrespect me like a dame/"
"U.N.I.T.Y." is an existential monologue on the day-to-day struggles of Black women in the hood and still surpasses academic feminists in the song's critical ability to distinguish linguistic form and content. Today, unfortunately, we know Latifah as the hip-hop Oprah, representing the worst in bourgeois feminism and commercial feel-good spectacle, a far cry from her '96 Set It Off film persona "Cleo," at times present in Reign and throughout her hip-hop career. This isn't selling out, we should bear in mind. Afterall, this latter feminism, as we've seen on Black Reign, coexisted with the street one as competing contradictory themes. All we know now is which tendency overcame the other.
But that's why Black Reign remains such a gem. No longer celebrated by most heads, newer ones will discover that this album speaks to them from the dead.