De La Soul

When Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump was released last August, it debuted at number nine on the Billboard album charts, making it De La's highest-charted album in their 11-year history. It should've been higher.

There aren't accolades enough in the English language to describe the breath-taking power and resonance on this album. No hip-hop album in a long, long time has managed to click lyrically and rhythmically the way Mosaic does. While it's all over the map, it somehow remains aesthetically centered. It works on many levels: a party record, a satirical romp, a conceptual album, a sociocultural treatise, and a subversive ass-kicking.

What's most pleasurable about hearing from De La Soul again is that, even though it's in child-rearing, mortgage-paying mode, this fierce crew still has a sense of whimsy. With its samples of Steely Dan, Hall and Oates and most memorably, the Turtles, and its raps about potholes and shit like that, De La Soul was once deemed too eccentric to be taken seriously. Now, the three founders of the Soul -- Posdnuos, Dave (formerly Trugoy the Dove) and Maseo -- know that what was once perceived as their weakness is now their strength. What had been deemed excessiveness is now just what the progressive rap audience cries for. Posdnuos sums it up quite nicely on "Foolin": "Since Jam Master Jay been rocking without a band/ And that sista k.d. lang been sexing without a man/ We brought our ultimate plan to birth." As Cedric the Entertainer would say, they're grown-ass men, dog.

The best tracks on the album reinvigorate old rap-album standbys. "Oooh," featuring Redman, is a rowdy number that can challenge any party rap anthem of the past five years. "With Me" samples Marvin Gaye's "After the Dance" to intensify a hot-and-bothered flirtation number. "U Don't Wanna B.D.S.," features the boys and a foaming-at-the-mouth Freddie Foxx ripping new assholes into self-anointed hardcore rappers. ("You sitting in central booking, crying like a bitch, waiting for your father to come bail you out," Foxx spews.)

Speaking of that, don't sleep on the other guest spots, either. Chaka Khan lends her satisfying tones to the soulfully straightforward "All Good?" Maseo protégé D.V. joins in on the whirling fun on "Thru Ya City." The trio even makes Beastie Boys Mike D. and Ad Rock feel at home on the raucous "Squat!" But "Declaration" is the album's jazzy, opinionated centerpiece. Here De La Soul skewers the bloated rap community and its peers. "Salute these super MCs for being clever/ And never using weed as a ghost writer," Posdnuos says, also noting that "your pop-culture needs a diaper change." (It's interesting that De La Soul manages to summarize in one line what Eminem spends his whole second album trying to get across.)

The bonus track, available only at the Tommy Boy Web site, is a letdown, since it's really an opportunity to hype up one of the other artists guesting on the album. But that doesn't mar the album's sheen one damn bit. Mosaic faithfully captures the mission of De La Soul. And this is just the beginning: There will two more entries in the Art Official Intelligence series in the coming year. One can only wonder what marvels the men will lay on people next. The first installment has already given listeners too much to handle.

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Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey