Editor's Note: On the official YouTube stream above, the intro track "Genesis" (featuring Jill Scott) appears as the last song of the record, rather than the first.
Twelve long years, one Grammy, and a sneaker collab later, hip hop heroes De La Soul are back in force with and the Anonymous Nobody..., the group's eighth studio LP.
The story of the album is an interesting one. In order to avoid the legal mire of clearing samples for use in a beat, a murky corporate struggle which to this day keeps much of De La Soul's legendary catalogue from seeing digital release, the Long Island-born trio took a sharp indie turn. Sourcing over $600,000 from 11,000 Kickstarter backers, De La found themselves swimming in enough cash to hire a posse of professional musicians and hit LA's Electro-Vox Studios.
From over 200 recorded hours of their band's jamming, De La Soul cherry-picked nearly all of the samples used to construct the Anonymous Nobody's music, over which they had clearly-defined ownership. Gone is the mess of rounding up permission to use samples from as many as 30 different recordings stitched into a single song, and the good news is that it works.
Stem to stern, the beats here are crisp and rich, and, for the most part, they deliver the classic boom-bap fans would expect from a De La Soul record, sans the hiss and blemishes of vinyl samples. The verses Posdnuos and Dave spit here are deft and passionate, and De La Soul continue to do no wrong when they rhyme. Tracks like the funky "Pain," which includes one of my favorite Snoop Dogg features in recent memory, and "Nosed Up," in which Posdnuos eschews nose candy in favor of good old grass, are two standout cuts.
The problems with and the Anonymous Nobody flare up when De La Soul goes whole hog into pop-rap numbers, each pulling the LP in their own direction. "Here in After," which features a typically blasé Damon Albarn, pits rapping against shiny major-key guitar chords and galloping rock drums with less-than-ideal results. "Drawn," a particularly good track, sounds more like a Pos feature on a Little Dragon project than vice versa. While any of these songs might work well as singles, here they shake up the course of an album which dedicates its first five tracks to a classic hip hop sound.
The notable exception here is the zany "Snoopies," which jarringly jumps between a peppy David Byrne chorus and a series of funky verses from Dave and Pos. Its success lies in compartmentalization: Keeping the MCs on their own turf, and the rock singer on his. It's almost enough to make up for the ballad-y "Lord Intended" in which The Shadows' Justin Hawkins clutters 7-and-a-half minutes with gratuitous, glam-rocking silliness.
Yet, despite its flaws, the record ends on a perfect note. "Exodus" is everything I had dared to dream that and the Anonymous Nobody would deliver. It's a clear, soulful statement of De La Soul's artistic mission. It's a powerful tribute to both the people who kicked in to make the LP possible, and listeners the world over. It's straight-up gorgeous. When De La sings, "It's an outro that's also an intro," it fills me with hope that my favorite common contributors will never stop burning and building their bridges, for all of us. Because the world is better for it.
and the Anonymous Nobody... is out now on De La Soul's own A.O.I. Records. Pick it up on Amazon. You can also stream it above, courtesy of their YouTube.
Below, check out De La Soul's We're Still Here (now)... documentary about the making of and the Anonymous Nobody..., as well as Mass Appeal's recent De La Soul is Not Dead, which dives into the history of the legendary act.
De La Soul's We're Still Here (now)... Documentary
Mass Appeal's De La Soul is Not Dead Documentary
For De La Soul's latest music, news, and tour dates, check out their Zumic artist page.