Last week, De La Soul dropped their first new studio album in 12 years, And the Anonymous Nobody, and I’m here to report that it is really freaking good.
It’s a little insane, really, just how good this record is when you consider the band’s longevity. De La Soul dropped their legendary debut record, 3 Feet High and Rising, back in 1989, and here they are, still releasing high-quality music some 27 years later. That’s rare in any genre, but especially hip-hop.
It’s worth noting the backstory behind And the Anonymous Nobody. The band used crowdfunding to raise the necessary funds, not because they had to, but because they wanted to … it meant freedom and being able to do whatever the heck they wanted, and that’s always been important to Posdnuos, Dave, and Maseo. Boundaries? Restrictions? De La Soul has never cared for such things.
The group also took a different approach in the studio this time around, recording hundreds of hours of jam sessions with live musicians and then going back and crafting the album from those tapes. There are still plenty of samples, but instead of sampling dusty LPs from their crates, they’re sampling recordings they actually helped put together. The end result is an album that sounds forward-thinking while still having that thump, swing, and groove we’ve come to expect from a De La Soul record.
“Royalty Capes,” the record’s first full song after an introduction featuring Jill Scott, displays that thump I speak of, packing all the punch fans fell in love with on The Grind Date. Androids read raps off iPhones, Dave rhymes. I choke the blood out of felt tips/ Heavy weights up to the front if the belt fits/ The wealth is like ivory toothpicks/ One out of each tusk/ And must gets bust for each and every hiccup.
Another highlight is the very next track, “Pain,” which throws in a verse from Snoop as icing on the cake. “Pain” is perhaps the closest thing And the Anonymous Nobody has to a potential radio hit, though I don’t think any of us really expect modern radio to truly embrace hip-hop this raw and fun; maybe it can pick up steam through satellite radio or some other channel. In a perfect world, though, “Pain” would be a strong contender for the song of the summer, with its combination of feather-light keyboards and hard-hitting drums.
There are other highlights as well. For example, as if a new De La Soul album wasn’t enough to get old-school fans excited, we have the song “Memory of … (US),” which features production from none other than Pete Rock himself. (Estelle shows up as well to sing the hook. Remember the greatness of “American Boy”?) Rock is arguably the greatest rap producer of all time, and hearing him pop up in 2016 on a De La Soul record is one of the highlights of the entire year in music.
And then there’s “Lord Intended,” which is more than 7 minutes long and features singer Justin Hawkins from the Darkness and a blistering, gut-punching guitar solo. Guys like Snoop and Pete Rock make sense on a De La Soul album … but Hawkins? Talk about unexpected! It works, though, and the final result is actually my favorite track on the entire record. Hawkins shows up about halfway through the track, howling over a slow piano part that slowly builds into an epic climax.
David Byrne, Usher, Little Dragon, 2 Chainz, and Damon Albarn all also show up on And the Anonymous Nobody, and each appearance works really well. Even Usher, a name sure to raise a lot of eyebrows, turns in a great feature.
Overall, And the Anonymous Nobody is a smart, exciting record from start to finish, and I highly recommend it.
Every one of De La Soul’s albums have been fantastic. 3 Feet High and Rising and De la Soul is Dead were the old-school, genre-defining classics, Buhloone Mindstate and Stakes is High detailed the band’s evolving style, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump and AOI: Bionix took their sound to the future, and The Grind Date was the late-career home run that showed they still had plenty left in the tank. Now, we can add And the Anonymous Nobody to that list, among those other incredible records. All we’re left to do as fans is stand up and applaud hip-hop royalty.