13 November 2016

REVIEW: De La Soul and the Anonymous Nobody

The common assumption is that Rap is simply a young man's game.  You probably aren't gonna see a rapper in their late 40s grace the Billboard Top 10 these days, unless it's Jay-Z on a track with one of these youngins.  You also most likely will never see teenagers listening to rappers that are probably much older than their parents.  Unlike other genres, our culture tends to lose respect for artists beyond their prime that attempt to set foot back into an arena that has long since moved on from their era.  Part of this is due to the simple fact that Hip-hop is still relatively young compared to genres like Rock.  So it's always a gamble for groups like De La Soul to release new music in 2016 and still expect to make an impact.

Their stamp on the game was made in the late 80s and early 90s.  Not only has Hip-hop evolved immensely since then, but each member is also a different person from who they were nearly 30 years ago.  This isn't discounting their other seven albums in that time span, but De La Soul's very identity was shaped with their debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, which was released in 1989.  On that same point, it cannot be ignored that Hip-hop artists and fans are getting older as well.  So how does De La Soul's 9th album, And the Anonymous Nobody, fit into this era we live in today where so many different tastes have to be catered to?

"Royalty Capes" kicks things off and is probably the album's most braggadocios track, re-introducing you to the caliber of artists you're listening to in an almost satirical fashion.  While there are other songs on here where they poke fun at their age, this one in particular does not shy away from the group completely owning their legendary status.  Afterward, we move on to the album's first banger in "Pain" featuring Snoop Dogg, whose contribution fits right in with the funk-infused production.  Speaking of which, this album has a couple of oddball features that somehow never feel out of place.  Usher's vocals on the hook of the heartfelt "Greyhounds" makes it another standout.  2 Chainz gives his two cents on "Whoodeeni" and thankfully doesn't embarrass himself in the process.  Despite the fact that the members of De La Soul are fossils in Rap years, nearly every choice they made on this album, from production to features, just flat-out works.

'Your music means everything to you.  Are you concerned about the status of your playlist and precious collection?  We feel you, and we're here to help.  Have no fear, De La Soul is Here / We offer you peace of mind, knowing your investment in our music lasts a lifetime.'

A skit toward the end of this album, probably more fit as an intro, sums up exactly what And the Anonymous Nobody is about. The overall concept is clever, in that De La Soul assumes a role of anonymity as an entity simply known as Nobody.  This shows they could care less about trying to prove that they 'still got it.'  Their mission is clear, and that's to provide the listener with timeless and comprehensive substance.  No gimmicks and no dumbing-down for wider appeal.

The confidence in their music is evident from start to finish, but this album is not without a few missteps.  Even with their claims of providing us with substance, And the Anonymous Nobody is disjointed as fuck.  There is an apparent lack of cohesion that highlights the fact that a lot of the album is a collection of jam sessions in recent years.  Judging from how it starts, I imagine "Lord Intended" is one from that stash of sessions.  It's more of a Rock anthem that's probably three minutes longer than it should be, clocking in at 7:16.  It also features a ridiculously long guitar solo and vocals from Justin Hawkins that should have just been cut entirely.  The other song that feels out of place on And the Anonymous Nobody is "Drawn," featuring Little Dragon.  It's like five and half minutes of some Swedish chick singing over this Chinese New Year ringtone of a beat, and it just doesn't fit anything on the album at all.  You aren't even reminded that you're listening to a De La Soul track until close to five minutes in, and by then most will have skipped the damn song!  Luckily these issues do not weigh down an otherwise excellent album that infuses both golden era and modern day vibes into a package that anyone can appreciate.

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