Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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De La Soul

  • 3 Feet High and Rising [Tommy Boy, 1989] A-
  • De La Soul Is Dead [Tommy Boy, 1991] ***
  • Buhloone Mindstate [Tommy Boy, 1993] A
  • Stakes Is High [Tommy Boy, 1996] B+
  • Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump [Tommy Boy, 2000] A-
  • AOI: Bionix [Tommy Boy, 2001] A
  • Timeless: The Singles Collection [Tommy Boy/Rhino, 2003] A+
  • The Grind Date [Sanctuary, 2004] *
  • And the Anonymous Nobody [A.O.I., 2016] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

3 Feet High and Rising [Tommy Boy, 1989]
An inevitable development in the class history of rap, they're new wave to Public Enemy's punk, and also "pop" rather than pop, as self-consciously cute and intricate as Shoes or Let's Active. Their music is maddeningly disjunct, and a few of the 24-cuts-in-67-minutes (too long for vinyl) are self-indulgent, arch. But their music is also radically unlike any rap you or anybody else has ever heard--inspirations include the Jarmels and a learn-it-yourself French record. And for all their kiddie consciousness, junk-culture arcana, and suburban in-jokes, they're in the new tradition--you can dance to them, which counts for plenty when disjunction is your problem. A-

De La Soul Is Dead [Tommy Boy, 1991]
studio obscurantism as street credibility ("Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa," "Fanatic of the B Word," "Keepin' the Faith") ***

Buhloone Mindstate [Tommy Boy, 1993]
They emerge from their dark night as funny and unpredictable as when they were kids, and a lot looser. With grease from Maceo and friends, the mostly jazzy beats have penetrated like liniment--for all its quick turns and fancy wordplay, at bottom this feels like a groove record. Guest MCs SDP and Tagaki Kan take pig latin to the land of the ideogram, and battling sexism is De La's own Ladybug, the effervescent (and short) Shortie No Mass. Inspirational Credo Sure To Be Quoted in Non-Family Newspapers Everywhere: "Fuck being hard, Posdnous is complicated." A

Stakes Is High [Tommy Boy, 1996]
After almost four years, Posdnuos and company emerge from the ether like the long-lost friends they are. Their wordplay assured in its subtle smarts, their delivery unassuming in its quick, unmacho mumble, their cultural awareness never smug about its balance, they bind up an identifiable feeling in an identifiable sound, and just about every one of the 17 tracks comes equipped with a solid beat and a likable hook or chorus. It's a relief to have them back. But it's never a revelation. B+

Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump [Tommy Boy, 2000]
Once pranksters whose greatest pleasure was disrupting the groove they adored, they've evolved into hip-hop's purest musicians. Partly our ears have changed and partly theirs have, so that their brilliant hunches now sound like glowing accomplishments. As they leapfrog around from Busta to Beastie, from herky-jerk drum and bass to diva anthem, from playground old-school to love-men ballad, this holds steady as the Temptations album of dreams, with Smokey and Holland-Dozier-Holland playing king-of-the-mountain and James Jamerson and Benny Benjamin doing God's work below. The lyrics are intelligent of course, clever and moral and street-conscious and just gnomic enough, but their art is in their beats and flow and tunes too. Hip-hop as a great black music, as amenable as jazz itself to young turks turned old masters. A-

AOI: Bionix [Tommy Boy, 2001]
Sampling Tavares, Wings, Dr. Buzzard, Laura Nyro, and the Fat Boys--but just barely, more as a sign of what they've been playing than of how they want to sound--they flow as smooth as the '70s grooves they once left back in the old school. Philosophically woman-friendly and musically woman-dependent, they segue effortlessly into Slick Rick sex ed and the orgasmic mock-mock-melodrama of "Pawn Star"; their gospel chorale is no less on concept than their Reverend Do Good takeoffs. Anyone who ever wondered what hip hop might sound like when it grew up now has an answer. It sounds like a good marriage in a black 'burb, complete with doubts, weed, and a principled refusal to ignore the existence of Somalia. A

Timeless: The Singles Collection [Tommy Boy/Rhino, 2003]
Right, their albums are worth owning, so if you've collected them all, rip the track sequence off Amazon and burn yourself a present. But the explanations and booklet pix will soften up the rap haters on your list, who'll thank you for proving once and for all that skewed rhythms can be humane even when singers don't validate them and "live" musicians don't play them. These focus cuts add tunelet and dancebeat to a quirky, homemade funk lite that never partook of the lounge or the suave sex the lounge implies, and manifest the rhythmic uses of spoken words for guys no one would mistake for orators, romeos, or thugs. Prince Paul taught them that any piece of music was a beat in potentia. Dry, droll, and tender they were on their own--intelligent too, as befits learners for life. Inspirational Sample: "Oh the big dic-dictionary/Is very necessary." A+

The Grind Date [Sanctuary, 2004]
Weary blues from waiting ("The Grind Date," "Rock Co.Kane Flow"). *

And the Anonymous Nobody [A.O.I., 2016]
Whittling down 300 hours of live funk whilst enlisting Snoop Dogg, Jill Scott, David Byrne, Damon Albarn, and many more, pushing-50 trio set their scattershot sights on the moving targets of musicality and relevance ("Pain," "Memory of . . . [Us]") **