De La Soul – Art Official Intelligence

De La Soul
Art Official Intelligence

Back in the late 80s, De La Soul came out with one of those instant classics: 3 Feet High and Rising. How could we forget, right? It was an album full of humor and great samples and shorts as designed and envisioned by the greatest of all disc doctors: Prince Paul.
As De La progressed through a few more albums like De La Soul is Dead and Da Stakes is High, it was clear that they were actually getting better. The music remained golden, and the samples continued to be unique and different from anything else out there (except for maybe the occasional Tribe Called Quest tune). The rapping was still fresh too. Plug 1 continued to expose things about himself and our society in a serious tone, but with humorous underpinnings. And Plug 2 plugged in his unique and slurring way.
So, here we go: it is time for the year 2000 version of De La. Would it be as good? Would the trend continue? Here is how I saw it during my listenings:
Well, Art Official Intelligence starts it off with (after some babbling on track 1), a very average and disappointing tune: “U Can Do Life.” The keyboards are smooth, but the bass-line is odd. It just doesn’t sound right along with those smooth keyboards. And then IT HAPPENED! A silly singer gets on the mic and starts to sing like Whitney Houston or something during the chorus, with some yucky live guitar. I freaked out during my first listen. I pushed the button and forwarded to the next song. I mean, De La on the R&B tip? What is up with that?
Next, “My Writes” is up. Its okay. It is repetitive as hell; but it is okay. No more. No less. Really, you can’t say much more about this song except that it was becoming obvious that this album was going to be filled with guest rappers. Not much of Plug 1 and Plug 2 on this one.
Then came the “hit.” I heard this song the first time when I watched the Chris Rock show on HBO. The sample (from some old martial flick) is fantastic. The song chugs along and features Redman. I must say that the rapping is decent here, but clearly not as smooth as it could be. Still the song does end up being one of the strogest on the record.
Then came the double mediocre threat with “Thru ya City” and “I C Y’all,” (a super bland song featuring Busta Rhymes that, like the song before it, attempts to sound funky, but end up just showcasing tired-ass funk samples and moronic sounding basslines). “View” is just above mediocre. The rapping here is excellent and more akin to what one might expect from the double-line rapping Plug 1 and 2. Yet the music is boring and sample is trite. Where is Prince Paul when you need him?
Then the absolute best all-around song on this album pops up (besides the short “in betweens” that feature Fife from Quest and others joking on the “Ghost Weed” trend). “Set the Mood” also features guest hip-hoppers and is uncharacteristically short for a De La song. Was it too good to be long? One wonders why the best all-around song on this album doesn’t feature all three Plugs and top of the guest rapper. Unfortunately this smooth little guitar popping, beat-laden sog ends almost as it starts (I just put it on repeat).
Well, after this tune it goes like this: “All Good” – More boring samples and a frightful guest appearance from Chaka Khan who sings some more – blech. “Declaration” – Sample features brass section and has some more classic De La rapping, but the tune is too repetitive and goes no where. “Squat” – A piece of shit, throw away, garabage song featuring the Beastie Boys yipping and yapping and generally fucking around wasting valuable studio time. “Words from Chief Rocker” – Old School blather that is so horrible yuck. Thank God it is short. “With Me” and “Copa” – More of the same faceless, non-inspiring hip-hop. “Foolin” – Not Def Leppard. Pretty dreamy and smooth. Actually worth listening to. “The Art of Getting Jumped” – Would be better if they dropped the friggin’ singing R& B crap. “U Don’t Wanna BDS” – A pretty intense tune with that classic “don’t mess with me” attitude that features guest hip-hopper Freddie Foxxx getting pretty ruthless. Would be better, I imagine, if maybe Grand Puba from Brand Nubians fame would have guest rapped instead.
As an old school hip-hop fan and long-time fan of De La Soul, my only thought is this: De La thought they would try their damndest to alienate past fans at the hope of gaining new ones. I don’t imagine I’ll be playing this one much (except for track 8).