De La Soul’s contributions to hip-hop over the past three decades are mighty, but the Long Island trio has often been challenged by its own creativity. In an era where music is becoming increasingly accessible, De La’s catalogue has been noticeably absent from iTunes, Spotify, and other free and subscription-based platforms due to issues with sample clearances. It’s a war Posdnuos, Dave, and Maseo have been waging for years: How do we make music on our own terms without interference from lawyers, labels, and other industry gatekeepers?
It’s an unfortunate position for one of hip-hop’s most innovative acts to find itself in, but the group has made strides toward reclaiming control of its own destiny in recent years. De La gave away its entire catalog via download in 2014, an act it followed by raising more than $600,000 through Kickstarter to record its long-awaited eighth album, And The Anonymous Nobody…. Fortunately, the final product sweats for every last cent. An eclectic genre mashup with an enviable roster of guests, And The Anonymous Nobody… bristles with creative rebirth and more than a touch of hard-earned, “we’re back” braggadocio.
The horns that ring grandly throughout “Royalty Capes” could be written off as a by-product of De La’s self-effacing sense of humor. But Nobody is unmistakably the work of a seasoned hip-hop crew proudly rereleasing itself into the world. De La Soul has nothing to prove to anyone these days, but they believe they do, and that chip only makes the already-great group stronger. When The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins sings, “Fuck everyone, for everything,” in a towering, Freddie Mercury-like falsetto on the theatric arena rocker “Lord Intended,” it’s a refrain delivered with purpose. More than the next album, And The Anonymous Nobody… is the sound of a veteran act taking joy in its newfound freedom.
Arriving 12 years after The Grind Date, De La’s latest is its most lively affair yet. Credit the Rhythm Roots Allstars, with whom the trio recorded over 300 hours’ worth of music, for skillfully guiding the group through previously uncharted territory including psychedelic space-pop (“Property Of Spitkicker.com”), art rock (“Snoopies”) and indie pop (“Here In After”). With help from the likes of David Byrne, Damon Albarn, Usher, and Little Dragon, among others, Nobody veers into the realm of pure pop, with the trio’s patented hip-hop only one color on the sonic canvas.
And while so much of the record sounds fresh, other elements feel comfortably broken in. The skits are playful, the trio’s wordplay is reliably pointed and clever, and there’s a kinetic energy to the record that’s almost tangible. Finally unencumbered by outside voices and legal red tape, this sounds like the kind of record De La Soul has always had in it, and likely the one its members have always wanted to make.
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