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De La Soul: Art Official Intelligence (Mosaic Thump)


De La Soul

Album: Art Official Intelligence (Mosaic Thump)
Label: Tommy Boy

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When De La Soul released its underrated fourth album, 1996's Stakes Is High, the group was fighting what appeared to be a losing battle, peddling a smart, responsible style of hip-hop at a time when the charts were ruled by the testosterone-heavy likes of 2Pac, Nas, and The Notorious B.I.G. Four years later, the underground hip-hop movement De La Soul helped jumpstart with its legendary debut, while still not the commercially dominant style, at least provides a vital, dynamic alternative for fans who seek hip-hop with a social conscience and a sense of artistic daring. Clearly comfortable with their roles as elder statesmen, the members of De La Soul sound relaxed throughout Art Official Intelligence, the work of a group confident enough in its street credibility to borrow both a title from Barry Manilow ("Copa (Cabanga)") and a chorus from The Lovin' Spoonful ("Thru Ya City"). Eclectic almost to a fault, AOI shifts gears constantly, from the hard-edged, tough-talking Alkaholiks/Xzibit collaboration "My Writes" to the infectious old-school nostalgia of the Beastie Boys-assisted "Squat!" to the understated seduction of "With Me." The album's first single, the exuberant "Oooh!," is another highlight, an anthemic teaming with a revved-up Redman that goes pop in the best possible sense, riding winning chemistry and a sure-shot sample of Lalo Schifrin's hypnotic theme from "Enter The Dragon" to hip-pop bliss. But while packed with great songs—"The Art Of Getting Jumped" and "All Good?" also stand out—AOI is inconsistent, undermined by battle raps that feel limp and overly familiar coming from artists of De La Soul's stature. It doesn't help that the production tends to be weak and colorless, particularly when compared to the Technicolor vividness once provided by longtime collaborator Prince Paul. AOI is probably De La Soul's weakest record to date, but plenty of the group's peers would be proud to call it their own.