September 7, 2000

Who Stole the Soul?

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Many artists think that if they don’t produce serious works then they can’t be considered serious artists. Those with confidence, like the Beastie Boys, realize that whimsical lightheartedness and humor can be just as hard to create as a “serious” work.

True, the Beasties have gotten a little more serious in their lyrics. But, their high-pitched, whiney, fast-speak style has never really changed and their beats have only gotten stronger.

De La Soul, at their height with 1989’s 3 Feet High and Rising, were kings of the burgeoning hip-hop community. And they weren’t laying heavy rhymes on people like Tribe Called Quest, rapping about “you’re not necessarily a man if you do pull the trigger.”

No, De La were rapping about “De La Heaven,” “Jennifa” and “Me, Myself, and I.” In 1989 shit was going down in Brooklyn. Yet De La were poor and happy.

Now the economy is great and bubblegum music — not grunge — is what’s hot. De La’s ‘happy rap’ is finally acceptable. But now the trio can’t help fighting the tide again. They’re rapping about “Ghost Weed,” AK’s, Mac 10’s, and “militia flamethrowers.”

Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, Volume I marks De La’s first effort in 5 years or so, since bowing out of the scene. However, they return without genius producer Prince Paul, who laid the groundwork of beats which made 3 Feet High such a seminal effort.

One can’t help but think that either the trio has changed or Prince Paul, who found the group, was also holding them up.

Posdnuos, Maseo and Dave have certainly changed. Yes, that’s right, Dave. He used to be known as the much cooler and rap-like Trugoy. But people, like, change man, so like, back up.

“U Don’t wanna bust dat shit. U niggas get the motha fucking point.” This line, while common with perhaps a Master P label crap-rap artist, seems strange coming from the mouth of Maseo on this album.

They must have become bitter.

But, that’s just a changed attitude. AOI’s biggest flaw is that it is laboriously slow and angry. Volume I is part of a trio of albums — the cd case even includes a second and third sleeve for the next two albums which perhaps were meant to come out with the first. But the way this album went, the next two are sure to be hurting if they ever even make it to the shelves.

This album isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s a solid rap album. But it is indistinguishable from any other label’s rap group. This cd is like the garage band who you think is great, but only because they have no noticeable flaws. Overall, there’s nothing impressive. Though there’s nothing wrong, you can’t necessarily consider that a compliment.

The album is littered with guest appearances. In fact, only eight of the 17 tracks are just De La Soul. Artists like Redman and Busta Rhymes give their usual fare in rapping, but beats on their respective songs don’t do anything for me.

Mike D and Ad Rock even offer their services for the track “Squat!” Even that remains less then impressive though.

It’s troubling, because no song on this album is overwhelmingly bad, but no song distinguishes itself by being good.

I think Dave says it best about AOI’s apparently wandering themes. The three word name represents De La’s new values. “We love and appreciate the art. Before we even try to put something out, we try to make sure it’s official. And we’re not afraid to embrace intelligence in what we do.”

“Art” is a very subjective thing and I’m not about to deny De La Soul that. I’m not sure exactly what makes a record “official,” but it was produced and packaged and sold, so I’ll give them that. I’m not quite ready to give them the “intelligence” part though.

Most disappointingly, De La Soul is credited with one of the first real “skits” on an album. Although their 1989 skit depicting a ghetto quiz show wasn’t all that funny, it was in good taste and light-hearted. The new skit is centered around “ghostweed,” a mystical herb which makes them attempt to rap like The Roots and Tribe. And, unfortunately, rap badly. Lighten up guys.

Archived article by Jason Weinstein