De La Soul occupy a strange place in hip hop. No one can take away the illustrious career and worldwide influence they have had. However, their transition to the digital era has been bumpy – to say the least. Being one of the groups that revolutionised sampling might sound great, but they have been punished in this age of clearances and law suits. As it stands, their classic albums are not available on iTunes, or most major streaming outlets. Not an easy position for any artist to be in 2016.
The announcement that this new album would be funded by a Kickstarter campaign and that it was even in the works was a surprise for many. They also informed fans that and the Anonymous Nobody would only sample their own past catalogue to avoid any legal pressures surrounding the release. It’s unfortunate that a stifling factor like this would have to even come into the equation for a legendary group like De La Soul, but they definitely made the most of a bad situation. The album was funded in no time and now we have a new 17 track project from De La. Well done, Internet.
On to the music itself, and there’s nothing spectacularly out of character from the group. In all fairness, none of us wanted a revamped De La for 2016 with rattling hi hats and sub bass. The album instead reminds the listener why they were attracted to their sound in the first place. The production is minimal at times and both emcees have mastered the art of making a beat their own and have no problem leading tracks with imagery and storytelling.
The features on the album don’t overshadow, but that’s not to say there are no big names. Everyone from Pete Rock to Justin Hawkins to David Byrne to Damon Albarn has something to contribute. Estelle’s vocals beautifully glide over Pete Rock’s production for the album’s tale of lost love, ‘Memory Of.. (US)’. The seven-minute, rock infused ‘Lord Intended’ is a bit of a reach and only leads you down memory lane of a horrid time when rock and rap were bastardised and thrown together on every track on the radio. There was a time and place for that and it’s definitely not on a De La album.
De La Soul were never known to lack spontaneity though, and while and the Anonymous Nobody is suitably experimental, the fact it’s a 17 track album could have easily demonstrated that they had bitten off more than they can chew at this stage. Thankfully, there are enough different sounds represented that result in the album rarely growing too stale. Not every track is gripping but each one serves its purpose and sets its own tone. If anything this album manages to once again define their sound and showcase their versatility. De La Soul are always referred to as Dasiy Age pioneers, and rightfully so, but they have always been much more than just that. They are one hip hop’s defining groups and it’s good to have them back.