De La Soul once promised, "It might blow up, but it won't go pop." But in the last 15 years, the group has grown into one of rap's most consistently delightful pop acts. De La Soul's catalog proves that integrity and pop savvy can coexist seamlessly, especially on The Grind Date, an album in which the group tries on hip-hop's hottest trends—from glossy soul samples to gospel flourishes to guest shots from underground favorites 9th Wonder, Madlib, and MF Doom—and finds they fit.
On "Shopping Bags," producer Madlib whips up frenzied percussive tinkling and woozy synthesizers that sound half-sinister and half-seductive, providing a sonic equivalent to the song's attitude toward materialistic women: the requisite cautionary alarm mixed with nagging respect for a gold-digger's powers of manipulation. The Grind Date reveals a group supremely at peace with its past, its legacy, and its role in hip-hop. Here, true happiness and contentment come not from making enough money to escape the rat race and indulge in Cribs-style excess, but from embracing the responsibilities of parenthood and the existential rewards of meaningful labor. De La Soul understands that art can elevate the everyday struggle into a beautiful one.
Never strained or strident, The Grind Date preaches the non-denominational gospel of gentle humanism with lush production, nimble wordplay, playful humor, and a guest list that tilts heavily toward veterans who've been in the game long enough to qualify for pensions, including Common, Ghostface, Flavor Flav, and MF Doom, who shares history with the group through his early days with the Prince Paul-affiliated KMD. Flying boldly in the face of youth-addicted popular culture, The Grind Date celebrates the joy and wisdom of adulthood. De La Soul isn't afraid to grow older gracefully, and that's another reason it continues to be one of hip-hop's most enduring sources of comfort and inspiration.