De La Soul - Art Official Intelligence
De La Soul
ART OFFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
NZ RELEASE DATE: 17 AUGUST 2000
Since introducing the globe to a new style of speak with the "verbal confetti" and "naughty noise" of its classic 1988 debut single, "Plug Tunin'," De La Soul has perpetually proven itself to be at the forefront of rap music innovation. From the group's epochal first foray, 1989's 3 Feet High And Rising, to the myth-destroying brilliance of 1991's De La Soul Is Dead, to Buhloone Mindstate's indelible anti-pop ethos of 1993 and Stakes Is High's indispensable wake-up calls of 1996. The treacherous Long Island, New York triumvirate of Posdnuos (a/k/a Kelvin Mercer, 30), Dave (a/k/a David Jolicoeur, 31 - formerly known as Trugoy) and Maseo (a/k/a Vincent Mason, 30) has embodied all that is inventive, exciting and thought-provoking about hip hop. It's a commitment to creativity that continues unabated on the group's fifth album, and its most ambitious project to date, Art Official Intelligence.
"The title describes three important things to us as far as what we do in this business," explains Dave. "We love and appreciate the art. Before we even try to put something out, we try to make sure that it's official. And we're not afraid to embrace intelligence in what we do."
But whereas the group's other offerings have often explored single, specific themes per LP, this time out the emphasis is on remaining free of such pre-defined demarcations. "I, personally, equate the feel of this album to 3 Feet High And Rising," notes Pos, "because of the fact that that was another album where there really wasn't a theme. I think every other album was like, 'We're on it like this' and ‘this is the zone we're in.' For this album, it's just us trying to do different things, óbug out, show rhyme skills and have a good time."
"We're just working song by song," maintains Dave, "to give you a collage of everything, every emotion."
De La has always remained ahead of the curve in terms of rap music's packaging and presentation (i.e., the "Me, Myself & I" "three-sided" 12" single, the translucent sleeve and vinyl of '93's promotional Clear Lake Auditorium EP). And appropriately enough, the group's latest represents yet another groundbreaking step. In an age in which most rap artists struggle to fill a single LP satisfactorily with compelling material, Art Official Intelligence is a triple album set to be released in three separate volumes - each edition encompassing different aspects of the De La sonic experience.
"We're just trying to do something different," Pos says of the project's mammoth scope. "It was just something that we thought would be really cool that hasn't been done. And it also gives us the chance to work with many artists that we always wanted to work with but couldn't during a regular album cycle."
Indeed, Art Official Intelligence Vol. 1's impressive roster of guests may be the most star-studded of De La's already power-packed repertoire. On the club-ready "I C Y'all," Busta Rhymes unleashes his unmistakable growl over a fuzzy synth bassline (a la Bussa Bus' own dancefloor filler, "Dangerous") courtesy of rap's most celebrated current production wizard, Rockwilder. With a raspy vocal assist from D.V. Alias Khrist (who's incidentally signed to Mase's Bear Mountain Records label) and production from Slum Village/Ummah maestro Jay Dee, "Thru Ya City," adeptly resurrects the melody of the Lovin' Spoonful's mid-'60s pop smash "Summer In The City."
Meanwhile, the high-octane "Squat" finds Pos and Dave exchanging old school-inspired quips with Adrock and Mike D. of The Beastie Boys. The similarly festive "My Rites" - produced by Maseo's cousin Adlib - pairs De La with Likwit crew menaces to sobriety (and some time tour mates) Xzibit and Tha Alkaholiks with expected fun-filled results. And on the LP's first single, the mid-tempo funk bomb "Oooh" - featuring a lyrical interpolation of Run-D.M.C.'s 808-boom classic, "Together Forever" from guest vocalist Redman - the adrenaline of a live performance's call-and-response energy is effortlessly captured in the studio.
The latter song also exhibits the breadth of De La that we've grown so happily accustomed to over the years. While "Oooh" is ostensibly a party record, Dave nevertheless takes a few moments to get topical on that ass - commenting on the demise of "shiny suit emcees" so memorably taken to task on Stakes Is High four years earlier.
"People are tired of all that happy-go-lucky, uniform and shiny suit-wearing rapper in the video with explosions everywhere," says Dave. "It's kinda tossed out the window. It's out in the open now and it's just my personal statement that people are ready for some real live shit. And, to me, 'Oooh' reflects that. It's some underground type of party record like in the basement with the crowd joining in on the chorus kind of a thing."
But for perhaps the finest example of such guest-host synergy on Vol. 1, look no further than "All Good?" the group's striking collaboration with the legendary Chaka Khan. "It was a really cool experience," Pos enthuses of meeting and working with the famed soul songstress. "She would do takes that she thought weren't good and she would ask me. And I'd be like, 'How can you ask me, you're Chaka Khan!' I had to kind of get over that to lead the session. She's like your really cool-ass, hip aunt. She doesn't ever make you feel like she's bigger than you. She's just down with you and will chill with you."
Set to an infectious, swinging, guitar-led groove, the content of "All Good?" was originally slated as your typical expression of feel-good-isms. However, true to De La's penchant for irony, eventually it was sagely decided to go with something more reflective, as is indicative of the chorus refrain, "It ain't all good and that's the truth."
"We were like, 'Let's make it a party record - like everything is cool, everything is good,'" remembers Pos. "I used those words verbatim with Chaka. And she was trying to map out a chorus right then and there in the studio. We decided that it kinda sounded corny because everything ain't all good."
The group's issue-orientation comes into focus most obviously on one of Art Official Intelligence's most intensely personal selections. Surprisingly, it comes from neither Pos nor Dave, but from self-proclaimed "swingman" (rhymer, DJ & producer) Maseo. Fresh from contributing the ebullient "Words & Verbs" to this past spring's De La Soul-executive produced Tommy Boy compilation, Hip Hop 101, Maseo takes quite a different approach to his solo showcase "U Don't Wanna B.D.S." An anti-gun song as potent as any in recent memory, it features hip hop's most feared and respected big man, Freddie Foxxx, driving the points of Mase's composition home with unequivocal fervour.
"The song addresses a lot of those rappers out there who talk about guns but aren't really on it like that," states De La's resident spin doctor. "The inspiration for it came from a friend of mine who used to be around me a lot but isn't anymore. He's kind of going backwards in his life. He had a Mac-11 in his crib and I was kind of overwhelmed from wondering what he was doing with it. That kind of gave me the inspiration because it upset me. I was thinking about it for a while."
Also hitting home is "Foolin'," an examination of the snake-riddled paths one must travel within the music industry. While production-wise its incorporation of portions of the Quincy Jones-composed '70s soul classic "If I Ever Lose This Heaven" brings a sublimely laid back vibe to the track, subject matter-wise the song is most reminiscent of the agitation expressed on Stakes Is High.
"It's definitely a song that touches base on the industry," confirms Dave, "and how brothers is fakin' a lot of roles. We just wanna let people know that we're the same De La. We're not gonna change too much. You'll hear different artists featured and stuff like that but our ideology is still the same. Whether you see us on the street or you see us in front of the camera or in front of the mic, it's gonna be the same old Dave, the same Merc, the same Mase."
All of which is good news to fans of the artful, official and intelligent - the brand of hip hop De La helped pioneer and continues to deliver. If anything, the trifecta of principles that guides Art Official Intelligence demonstrates at least one truism regarding De La Soul's continually rewarding music. Three is still a magic number.
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