De Le Soul’s latest crowd funded LP, “And the Anonymous Nobody”, aspires to be raw, energetic and intellectual, among other things. Most interesting is its introspective theme running throughout; the now middle-aged members are starting to think about their mortality. It achieves all of these characteristics through the wide variety of its tracks, the fantastic production, handled largely by De La Soul themselves, but with help from legendary Hip Hop producers like Pete Rock they have always been self-proclaimed ‘outsiders’ to the rap mainstream, and this gives them the freedom to experiment, which they do throughout this album, and to great effect.
But first, a little background on De La Soul and how the project began. When they were first coming up in 1988, a new subgenre of hip hop had exploded on to the scene, Gangsta Rap, and its influence spread like wildfire throughout the US. The raw lyrics and incendiary instrumentals of groups like NWA, Compton’s Most Wanted and South Central Cartel were a response to their environment growing up in the crime ridden South Central neighbourhoods of LA. From the beginning of their careers, De La Soul were determined to spread a message of love and unity in the black community. This is why we at Keakie have called them hip hop outsiders, and when they released their first album, many people appreciated their more relaxed, positive approach, and ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ is still considered a classic hip hop album to this day. De La Soul were also innovators of jazz rap and were members of the Native Tongues Collective, along with other renowned artists like A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers. The fact that “And the anonymous Nobody” was crowd funded using Kickstarter shows the groups innovation has never stopped. For those of you who don’t know, Kickstarter is a website that allows people to ask the public to raise money for a project, usually in return for advantages, like free tickets or memorabilia. It’s an investment by the band, and a risk, a route not usually taken by hip hop artists. It is a new way of funding art, and it seems to be taking off all over the world. Keakie approves.
For the old school hip hop aficionados out there, this album has everything. Notably, there are several elements of guitar rock throughout this album. On tracks like ‘Snoopies’, (featuring David Byrne of Talking Heads fame) and ‘Lord Intended’, De La Soul use distorted guitars and vicious spitting to vent frustration about death. The second half of ‘Lord Intended’ is reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’, with Justin Hawkins repeatedly chanting ‘Fuck everyone, burn everything’ to such an intense level that it almost becomes funny. The more relaxed indie-rock of ‘Here in After’, featuring frequent collaborator Damon Albarn is the penultimate track, and is a take on missing lost friends and appreciating what’s to come in life. Whilst De La Soul’s dabbles in rap-rock are satisfying, they quite often feel like a shot at a more radio friendly sound, not a genuine attempt at genre-blending. The trio of Posdnous, Dave and Maseo really come to life on this album when they utilise something that is becoming increasingly rare in modern music, and especially in hip hop; space in their music.
The best tracks on the album are quiet and smooth. The first five tracks are without doubt the strongest, and it’s because of their simplicity. With shimmering violins and pianos, De La Soul paint delicate images of long lost lovers on ‘Memory Of… (US)’, helped by Estelle’s sensual vocals. ‘Property of Spitkicker.com’ is the closest, lyrically, that De La Soul gets to their early 90’s ‘hippie-rap’ style. Lines like ‘Creative Minds crossover and back// Scribble with a knife to earn that slice of life,’ give that sense of youthful ambition, combined with a street-orientated projects upbringing. The highlight of the album is ‘Pain’, the lead single from the album. The track starts off with an infectiously funky guitar riff that sounds like its straight out of a 70’s Blaxploitation movie. The tone here is similar to Kendrick Lamar’s seminal ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. It’s a slick and sexy track, given help by the king of cool, Snoop Dogg, who’s appearances are always welcome. His California drawl floats across the groove effortlessly, and only emphasises how much of a laid back track this is.
This album is everything that Hip Hop needs to be
Raw, versatile and true to its roots. The album’s strengths are in its Quiet Storm moments and its cinematic production. De La Soul are good rappers, and they use gentle beats to flex their lyrical wings. Unfortunately, the album is not at all cohesive. The first half has a completely different feel to the second, and although versatility can be useful, in this case it just feels divided. Credit, however, should be given where credit is due; De La Soul are still outsiders in hip hop after 20 years, and they probably couldn’t care what people think of this album, because you can tell they really made this album for themselves. That certainly lends them our respect here at Keakie, a solid project – 7/10 from us.
Have a listen to the project below:
Discover More CategoriesHip Hop