Written By Angelo Gingerelli
De La Soul have always seemed to be too far ahead of their time to see the kind of success their talent deserved. They made rap for college radio before college radio played Hip-Hop, they made “Grown Man Rap” before grown men listened to rap and they made “Backpack Rap” before most backpack rappers were carrying their Jan Sports to kindergarten. Also, like some of their 80’s contemporaries (EPMD, Masta Ace, KRS-One) they have continued to release quality music for the last two decades that gets slept-on because it doesn’t live up to the standard set by their first few releases. While De La Soul’s more recent works have been well received, they don’t get discussed nearly as much as their first four classic LP’s: the groundbreaking “3 Feet High and Rising,” the sarcastically nihilistic “De La Soul is Dead” (for a great perspective on this album check out episode #11 of the “Swatches & Boomboxes” podcast available on iTunes and Sound Cloud), the “Grown Man Rap” of “Buhloone Mindstate” or the “Rap is Outta Control” vibe of “Stakes is High” and while all of these albums absolutely deserve their place in history, De La’s newest endeavor definitely adds to their extensive catalog of quality music.
Like all De La Soul albums and the Anonymous Nobody… presents a new version of the trio that reflects where they are in life and their careers. In 2016, Plugs 1-3 are music biz vets that have grown kids, responsibilities and an obvious desire to push Hip-Hop beyond its’ commonly accepted boundaries. The group avoids the “Old Head” stereotype by collaborating with younger artists/producers, making songs that challenge typical song structure and using new technologies (the project was completely crowdfunded on Kick Starter) and the results are pretty good.
At seventeen tracks and well over an hour, listening to the album in one sitting is quite an undertaking, and while not everything is a certified banger, the high points are incredibly high. Tracks like “Royalty Capes,” “Nosed Up” and “Exodus” display the creative production and humorous wordplay that has been the group’s trademark since beepers were state-of-the-art technology. Also, outside-the-box collaborations are nothing new to De La (remember, this is the group that had a song with Teenage Fan Club in ’93) and they continue their streak here with The Talking Heads’ David Byrne (“Snoopies”), Usher (“Greyhounds”) and possibly most surprising 2Chains (“Whoodeini”) all add an interesting touch to the De La Soul formula.
The LP’s main weaknesses are a few tracks that are not necessarily bad, but just kind of “meh.” The Snoop Dog assisted “Pain,” the overly somber “Memory Of…” and the humorous “Train Wreck” never seem to really hit full stride. Also, a few of the songs will be too experimental for most Hip-Hop heads to bump in their headphones, “Drawn” with Little Dragon, “CBGBS” “Lord Intended” and “Here in After” with Damon Albarn sound like the kind of songs you hear at an art gallery, think about looking into when you get home and then completely forget about as soon as you leave the gallery. Nothing on the album will have you lunging for the Fast Forward button, but a few of these weaker tracks will make you want to listen to the better songs on this record or your old copy of “Stakes is High.”
For a group rapidly approaching the thirtieth anniversary of their debut album, De La Soul’s and The Anonymous Nobody is an incredible achievement. It’s got enough good songs to go toe-to-toe with any album released this year and while the album does have weak spots, there are enough highlights to make it worth a listen for lifelong fans and new listeners alike, making it the rare rap album with the potential to be equally appreciated by parents that bought De La Tapes/CD’s and their kids that download music by groups influenced by them.
Best Songs: “Loyalty Capes,” “Greyhounds” w/Usher, “Whoodeini” w/2Chains (arguably his best verse ever)
Perfect For: Fans of all ages…seriously, this record spans generations
Rating: 8 out of 10