Twelve years ago, at the end of Come On Down, De La Soul said “Pursue my strategy, when it comes down to my work ethic/ I mean it’s simple, just be the best, you know what I’m sayin’?/ To be the best, the first, the only one in the game/ That’s is gonna do it for years and years man/ It’s like, you know, how you gonna say/ That we’re not at the top of the game?/ The top of the game n___s, is the one that’s producing/ Through out their career.” Of course, twelve years ago, De La Soul had just released The Grind Date, and it was safe to say they had been consistently releasing incredible music.
I have been a massive fan of De La Soul for a long time and have listened to every album they have ever released on repeat, always getting the same, if not more, out of each listen. De La are pioneers of hip-hop; they were one of the first groups, along with A Tribe Called Quest, to bring jazz to the genre, and almost single-handedly introduced the world to sampling. So much so that their albums are hard to come by in a modern world of music streaming, as clearance and rights issues have locked them out of digital streaming.
Every album they have released has shown incredible diversity and a level of consciousness that has allowed De La to remain “at the top of the game.” After conveniently getting The Grind Date stuck in my car CD player I found myself wanting more; their back catalogue is outstanding, I always felt they ‘retired’ too soon. Retired isn’t the right word – they were still touring, but not releasing any new material.
Early last year, the trio took to Kickstarter to gauge fan interest in a new album. In under 10 hours they had surpassed their goal of 110K, eventually raising 600K, making it the second highest-grossing Kickstarter campaign ever. While I didn’t contribute to the campaign, I feel like I have been waiting for this album for twelve years. My wait is finally over, as De La have now released their crowd-funded album and the Anonymous Nobody.
On first listen to and the Anonymous Nobody, it was not what I expected.
Opening track Genesis is a spoken word poem by Jill Scott. While I love spoken word, I was a little confused by its appearance. However, they then launch into Royalty Capes, a blend of more spoken word from Jill and incredibly conscious raps from Posdnous and Dave. “The sky takes notes when we speak,” Pos and Dave hold nothing back, proudly reintroducing themselves as royalty, without sounding like old men.
Lead single Pain, featuring Snoop Dogg is a throwback to the style that gave De La the 600K fundraising fan base. On the other hand, you have Drawn featuring the Swedish electronic band Little Dragon, with lots of electronics and lots of Little Dragon. Pos doesn’t start rapping until the last minute of the five and a half minute song. His bars are nothing special, but it rides on its star power, and is nevertheless both beautiful and enjoyable.
Drawn is followed by a bar-heavy Woodeeni, featuring 2 Chainz and a real spacey beat. The album is all over the place, lacking a particular direction or focus, yet it is somehow still brilliant. Listening to it in order or on shuffle seems to make no difference.
The more I listen to this album, the more I can appreciate the need De La had to produce an album free of record company greed and creative direction. The Plugs have used the crowd-funded money to take back creative control over their music and have put forth an uncannily brilliant album. Die hard De La fans like myself will still long for more raps from Pos and Dave after listening to songs like Exodus and Drawn.
Overall, De La did not disappoint. We might not see another album from them, but we have sure seen everything from them in a wicked 27 year career.
What’s even more amazing is De La Soul will be bringing their amazing new album to our shores in November. Presented by the Red Bull Music Academy with shows in Perth, Byron Bay, and Sydney. Dates and ticket info below.