De La Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody

The legendary De La Soul are back 27 years after they released their ground-breaking debut 3 Feet High And Rising. Not only did it introduce the ‘skit’ (interlude) to hip-hop, their experimental hip-hop beats with unrelenting positive vibes helped save hip-hop music from its then ever-increasing gangster-rap posture. Over the past few years, the New York hip-hop pioneers have been building a steady resurgence back into the limelight – all starting with a feature on the 2005 Gorillaz mega hit ‘Feel Good Inc.’ to now being regarded as one of the must see live acts. Judging by the first two cuts released from and the Anonymous Nobody, in ‘Trainwreck’ and ‘Pain’, even in their 40s Posdnous, Dave and Maseo are still killing it.

With this their first studio album in 12 years, the trio have approached their ninth LP in an alternative way. For the past decade De La Soul have been acting as their own label, their own AOL imprint free of any interference from industry folk, and have consequently turned to Kickstarter to fund this project. After smashing their original goal of $110,000 in under 10 hours, the Long Island rappers went on to raise over $600,000 which all helped fund recording, mixing, marketing and pretty much everything – as well as features from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Pete Rock, David Byrne, Little Dragon and even Justin Hawkins to name just a few.

The queen of R&B, Jill Scott, starts the proceedings in a romantic fairy tale skit that brings and the Anonymous Nobody, to life with lush string arrangements and of course Jill’s graceful tones. This leads to the first track, ‘Royalty Capes’, perhaps a sly comment on De La Soul’s on-going issue with early contracts that state samples can only be used on vinyl and cassette – this has meant that they can’t put their early catalogue online and so don’t get any royalties from any of the unofficial streams and download content up on the net. However, the slick, jazzy back-beat takes the main attention, featuring an unorthodox 9 bar loop of rolling sax and bass that shows the continuous sophistication in De La Soul’s craft. ‘Pain’ is De La Soul at their best. The super smooth bounce of its simple funk laden lick could go on forever, with little musical oddities arriving throughout, keeping this summer jam forever fresh. And to top off one of the early stand outs on the album, legendary hip-hop OG Snoop Dogg adds his impeccable chill flow to the laid back groove. The mellow vibe continues with the odd but strangely inviting ‘Property Of’. Enlisting the help of fellow New York rapper Roc Marciano, both parties showcase their superb lyricism with the added inventiveness of a vocoder creating a melody atop of their voices that completes the muted rhythm on the understated jam.

A very strong beginning of the album is capped off nicely with the beautifully orchestrated ‘Memory Of..’ featuring Estelle’s angelic vocals and Pete Rock’s prowess. At the same time, this signifies the beginning of a lull in the album including an intense seven-minute rock epic with The Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins in ‘Lord Intended’, the typically unconventional beat in ‘Snoopies’ featuring David Byrne, and the rather bland sounds of ‘Greyhounds’ with Usher. Though the tracks that came before are not totally offensive, and the Anonymous Nobody’s high standards are restored with the funky short ‘Sexy Bitch’ and the fantastically constructed ‘Trainwreck’.

Coming up to 30 years in the hip-hop game, De La Soul are still right at the top of their game and manage to find innovative ideas in a generation where “everything has been done”. My only gripe is that tracks with featured artists tend to take the form of their guest’s music – like the sublime Little Dragon track (‘Drawn’) where De La Soul come in 40 seconds from the end of the 5:34 song, or ‘Whoodeeni’ featuring 2 Chains, which is uncharacteristic of De La Soul’s style. This is by no means a bad thing, as it has opened up new territories for the trio to explore and prevail. Take ‘Here In After’ featuring Damon Albarn, a track that is so far away from De La Soul’s sound yet still holds the same quality that has been heard time and time again. Nevertheless, this isn’t an album that should be purely judged in its collaborations and ‘Nosed Up’ is a mighty fine example of this.

When thinking of the pressure and anticipation that shrouded and the Anonymous Nobody from the beginning of its Kickstart campaign, for the umpteenth time, De La Soul have created yet another humble masterpiece with a creativity that hasn’t been seen in their music in years. The production is so fresh and pleasing throughout that there must be a tour with a full live band following the album’s release – can someone please make this happen?!
Iain Lauder