AND THE ANONYMOUS NOBODY by De La Soul
Genre: East Coast Hip Hop, Conscious Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Property of Spitkicker.com,” “CBGBS,” “Lord Intended,” “Whoodeeni,” “Nosed Up”
For a long time I thought I was never going to say that wonce again Long Island emcees De La Soul (see what I did there?) hit it out of the park with a new album. The trio, comprised of “nerdy” high school friends Posdnuos, Dave (formerly Trugoy), and Maseo, sat comfortably in hip hop prominence for well over a decade setting the standard for modern usage of samples and padding the first steps for the alt-rap and conscious rap movements in the early 90s even alongside other fantastic groups like A Tribe Called Quest and more in The Native Tongues. So why has it taken so long for us to get another official release from these guys?
The reason for more than a few bumps on the road to AND THE ANONYMOUS NOBODY is due much to the way we enjoy music now and how it has drastically changed since De La Soul was on top. The creatively carefree, hands-on approach that they embraced in their early days, which had them sampling everyone from Michael Jackson to Tom Waits and was the pith of Prince Paul’s and the late J Dilla’s strengths on production, would not fly in a post-Napster musical landscape heavily barred by copyright laws despite pleas to their then label Warner Music Group. Their past ambitions more or less screwed them over in the end. But always remaining in good graces, De La Soul not only personally paid George Clinton $100k for sampling him on “Me Myself and I,” but eventually released for free the bulk of their music that wasn’t available on streaming platforms hoping to veer from obscurity and avoid being anonymous nobodies. So when it was time to make a return, seeing a Kickstarter campaign being launched for ANONYMOUS NOBODY brought a deluge of emotions among fans. It was heartbreaking to see a group more deserving of success than a plethora of their contemporaries in need, but at the same time it gave a chance for their passionate fan base to contribute at the grassroots level. Within a matter of hours, the project vastly surpassed its crowdfunding goal.
As the title suggests, De La Soul is very aware of what their prolonged absence in the modern hip hop world has done to their name. The group itself is no stranger to introspection. Just look at 1991’s DE LA SOUL IS DEAD and its rebranding. While this might portray an overly cynical outlook, the three know that there is no better time than the present to give a couple jabs in efforts of reestablishing their dominance. “Nobody” could be a hero of Odyssean myth saving us sheep from cyclopic short-sightedness. Though Pos and Dave are in more of the spotlight than Mase, the group has shown absolutely no signs of age in the rhyming department. Flows still retain the incomparable slickness that fans fell in love with so long ago.
Lyrics are clever and range from hilarious to sharply topical, complementing the album’s sense of self-awareness. This is evident by Dave’s condemnation, “Androids read raps on iPhones” on “Royalty Capes” and his closing verse, following an exceptional feature from 2 Chainz of all people, on “Whoodeeni,” toting, “She mellow like it’s a picnic / If she the mermaid, give her the fish stick / First class flight, shoot her out to the district / Wait, cancel the stallion, hold your horses / Kickstart your life and cut your losses.” The wisdom Pos spits is impeccable with “Roll up the papers and pass / While you turn your nose from the smell / Like Stanley on Fridays / Saying we should stay off the grass / As if the lines you sniff is more healthy / Delusions of prestige is not where the health be” on “Nosed Up,” hinting at the conflict between the creatively independent and tightly-wound corporate edge brought into the frame by their Kickstarter help. There’s definitely plenty of genius to be garnered from every aspect of the trio’s bars. But that is to be expected when dealing with De La.
This project also embarks on several different avenues aside from rapping, which may or may not work for some listeners, somewhat reflecting the crux of their previous ambitions, but is also attentive to the eclectic tastes of their fans. Whereas other formidable hip hop releases like Kendrick’s TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY cement its style in jazz and neo-soul, this album gathers bits of those genres and adds just as much rock, indie, art pop, and more. Even without Damon Albarn’s gloomy vocals on “Here in After,” ANONYMOUS NOBODY functions more in the line of a Gorillaz album than a traditional hip hop release.
Out-there production and genre-blending guest stars are what really lies at the album’s core. Pos, Dave, and the infamous Roc Marciano robotically rap under vocoder and reminisce about lessons learned from the past on “Property of Spitkicker.com” (referencing the long dead online hip hop bastion). The short but sweet “CBGBS” pays homage to the birthplace of the New York rock scene by having the group impressively slay along to guitar riffs. And there are, of course, some badass, classic East Coast beats with the rappers themselves manning the buttons and boards. Most all guests contribute segments that are fun, engaging, and add to what De La are trying to do. Justin Hawkins, lead guitarist and singer for The Darkness, comes in on the climax of the gloriously monstrous track “Lord Intended” with an unforgettable “FUCK EVERYOOONE! BURN EVERYTHIIING!” and some impressive guitar licks. Others, though they be only a few, lack in synergy. Being a kid that grew up in a Talking Heads-friendly household, seeing David Byrne on the list had me hyped. “Snoopies,” the song he is featured on, could itself stand as one of his own strong tracks. It’s just a bit odd that a small instrumental transition is necessary in between new wave Byrne belting out self-doubt and De La’s wittiness. Not all of these shifts are jarring, but some make or break tracks. And when it isn’t that, it’s how little space the rappers give themselves to work with. Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon simply owns too much of “Drawn,” which is sad because Pos really is on point with the dreamy, uplifting nature of the song right at its tail end. But even if it’s a revolving door situation, the majority of those who shows up is warmly welcomed.
It’s quite difficult to determine which tracks will click for which listeners, but most all music fans would benefit from this new De La Soul album. There quite literally is something for everyone, and even if you feel a crippling nostalgia for the group’s early days, there are just enough rhymes on here to keep you a little satisfied or at least confident in what’s next for De La. Where AND THE ANONYMOUS NOBODY lacks in focus and consistency, it makes up for it in sheer talent from artists determined to prove that age is just a number. We have an obligation to De La Soul to let them know that even if they are now nobody, “nobody” can help us.