De La Soul – De La Soul is Dead (1991)
“Bitties in the BK Lounge”, their funniest song; “Minnie Pulled a Pistol on Santa,” their scariest song, both in lyric and in beat (I swear, RZA must’ve fully absorbed the screams in this song before producing “Ice Cream”). Actually, I can’t stomach to listen to it individually. The skits range in operation from tying the album together in a concept (which I now use as chapter indications) to providing humour. And yeah, I laugh at stuff like Dove yelling “JOHNNY!!! You got a bullet in your forehead, boi” over pounding staccato octaves played like his “pianist mate” had never seen a piano before (“Johnny’s Dead”) and Prince Paul flipping to climax of an underrated gem from Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (“Anyway”) for the ridiculous manic bursts on “Who Do U Worship?” Sure, some of it isn’t worth much consideration: “Not Over till the Fat Lady Plays the Demo” gets thrown in for a chance to let Prince Paul sample Serge Gainsbourg for the second time on the album. But speaking of: Prince Paul was a fucking God at finding the right samples for colourful rhythms: a Tom Waits bass-line for “Oodles of O’s”; a better use of “Walk This Way”’s unmistakable drums than Run-D.M.C. on “Keepin’ the Faith” (which smack fantastic under the Bob James keyboard hook and the Slave bass-line). And in between those two points, some of their hookiest songs (“Talkin’ Bout Hey Love,” “Pease Porridge,” “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’”, the bass-line of “Fanatic of the B Word”) and some of their most informed raps (ie. “Afro Connections at a Hi 5,” where Pos goes “I hold my crotch cause I’m top-notch / I run amok Sasquatch”, dedicated to all those “HARDCORE acts”; “My Brother’s a Basehead,” about drug abuse at young age with a hooky transition borrowed from a Wayne Fontana song). At over 73 minutes, it’s their longest album, and for that reason, I’ve seen people rank it lower amongst their classic run. Me, I just think it means there’s plenty more to sink your teeth into.
De La Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody (2016)
Plays like a hip-hop-heavier Gorillaz album, which shouldn’t be surprising since the best things De La Soul have done in years were grace “Feel Good Inc.” and “Superfast Jellyfish” (even the flow on “Greyhounds” recalls the flow on the latter at some point, anyone?); Damon Albarn returns the favor and brings Little Dragon and Snoop Dogg (both from Plastic Beach) with him. Which is fine in theory; exciting, even – I like Gorillaz! But the thing is, the tracks that are more straight-forward hip-hop songs are actually the highlights, and the crossover tracks are doubtlessly interesting, but usually flawed. For example: David Byrne’s choruses are tremendously catchy, but his parts have nothing to do with the rest of “Snoopies”; “Here in After” better manages its arena-ready first half and slower second half, but the first half plays like a late-period U2 song. The “We’re still here no-ow” hook makes me happy to hear one of my favorite groups return since they last left us in 2004 (2012’s First Serve, with two-thirds of the group, was a filler-fest with no highlights), and a better album than The Grind Date, but it’s also a bit cloying in its half-sung way. Compared to A Tribe Called Quest’s own comeback later that year, there’s nothing as good as “A Space Program” or “We the People…”, but a lot of friendly grooves: the wavering saxophone of “Royalty Capes”, the twitchy line of “Pain” (that leads us into a sustained keyboard finish), the miniature CBGB’s (that could’ve been much longer; “You’re a peanut with a cashew!”); the cowbell-sporting “Trainwreck.” And the biggest surprise: 2 Chainz leaves an impressionable (and not in his typically bad-aftertaste way) verse on Dave’s surprisingly fleetfooted groove in “Whoodeeni”; my personal favorite.