Hip hop is a young man’s game. Or at least that’s the impression you get when the Rolling Stones are selling out worldwide arena tours, and the likes of Blackalicious, People Under the Stairs, the Pharcyde and Slum Village – celebrated purveyors of hip hop during its teenage years – are still playing small and mid-sized venues.
Add to that list De La Soul, the New York trio who taught us about the DAISY age with their seminal debut, 3 Feet High and Rising. After 12 years (or four, for those that count First Serve), Posdnuos, Dave and Maseo have unleashed a new album. Thirst for fresh material from the rap trio solidified when their 2015 crowdfunding campaign smashed their target ($110,000) and raised $600,000. The fan-funded And the Anonymous Nobody defies expectations of what a contemporary hip hop album from an old-school group can be.
This album is an invitation, a revival, and a proclamation that these hip-hop elders can still kick it. And they can. De La have always been rhyme kings whose lines inspire dozens of repeated listens before they give up all their layers. De La’s lyrical bite is alive and well in the Anonymous Nobody on songs about seizing the day, promiscuousness, young upstarts and the social media generation (“she online surfin’ for those beach boys”), and, most of all, why they are still in the rap game.
Grimy dupstep and trap clicks have become a staple of modern hip hop. Instead of rapping to Hit-Boy and Clams Casino-produced beats, De La have stuck to the rootsy-feeling funk and jazz loops that have characterised their sound. The dab-ready ‘Pain’, an instant classic with its taut beat, akin to ringing out Booker T & the MGs’ ‘Green Onions’, is the first taste of several juicy instrumental loops.
De La self-produced the majority of the album, while Supa Dave West handled the remainder. Tracks such as ‘TrainWreck’, ‘Nosed Up’ and the aforementioned ‘Pain’ revive the energy of Prince Paul’s original productions. There are songs laden with shrieking guitars in the vein of Rick Rubin and the Beastie Boys (‘Lord Intended’, ‘CGBGs’). And venturing out further still are the wonky chiptune jolts of ‘Whoodeeni’ and the quasi-orchestral ‘Drawn’. All told, the production palette is broad and, for the most part, extremely accomplished.
The only thing wider than the Anonymous Nobody’s production range is the number of guest artists it features. Snoop Dogg, Pete Rock, Estelle, Damon Albarn, Little Dragon, Jill Scott, 2 Chainz, David Byrne and Usher are all present. These guests compliment their respective tracks like the secret ingredient in a mixologist’s special sauce. Admittedly, when you have two-thirds or more of a track devoted to the smooth R&B of Usher or Estelle, or the heavenly vocals Yukimi Nagano, that’s not De La raps. But this same criticism could be levelled at plenty of hip hop albums.
After so long away it is a delight that De La Soul have returned in such fine form. On the final track, ‘Exodus’, Dave says the group aren’t out to be “saviours… just common contributors, hoping what we create inspires you”. Humble, but Anonymous Nobody is no common hip hop album. It gives fans what they wanted, and plenty of things they didn’t expect. It’s the sound of a creative trio let loose with a library of rare grooves and their favourite collaborators on speed dial. It’s old-school MCs proving they still have a new-age sensibility.
And the Anonymous Nobody is out now on AOI Records/Kobalt Label Services.
Have you listened to this album? If so, what did you think of it? Tweet me @aarnlee.
Image: De La Soul/PR