Returning with their first proper LP in eight years, De La Soul are here to delight and amuse yet again. Except, it’s not quite De La Soul as Maseo seems to be absent for this one. Fortunately, Posdnous and Trugoy (Plug 1 & Plug 2) pick up all lingering slack to deliver First Serve, a concept album that follows the faltering success of two young hip-hop devotees from Queens.
The story is as old as time itself. Fictional buddies, Jacob ‘Pop Life’ Barrow and Dean ‘D’ Whitter, struggle to make a name for themselves while striving away in their basement amidst juvenile beats and untimely interruptions from Jacob’s mother. Eventually the duo make some headway and reach the limelight they so desperately crave but soon tumble down separate roads. Fortunately, as with all such tales Pop Life and D manage to put aside their differences just in time to bitch-slap the world with a much needed comeback. A pretty standard rock n roll narrative, but one that allows for some cheeky jaunts to the old school era.
First Serve is very much a return to the Prince Paul from their formative years, but with an altogether more polished sound. For this we can thank producers 2 & 4 (aka Chokolate & Khalid), who assist in tugging on some late ‘80s nostalgia strings to recall all the glorious inaugural elements of 3 Feet High and Rising – classic disco beats, funky rhythms, and offbeat skits bring this record back to the outset of De La Soul’s career. In fact if it weren’t for the lacquered sonic testaments of 2 & 4, tracks like ‘Must B the Music’ and ‘We Made it’ could easily travel back 20 or so years and sneak onto the airwaves without anyone batting an earlobe. Determinedly, Plug 1 & 2 have kept the old school sound safely in their back pockets, along with all the positive messages they’ve upheld throughout they’re career. Affirmative notions of peace and unity are draped over First Serve – and all their albums – with a genuine tenderness that’s sparse at best. Dissect track two ‘Pushin’ Aside, Pushin’ Along’ and you’ll hear things like “all I ask is I be treated like an equal, this lack of support seems illegal, come on Mom!”. Outrageously wholesome by anyone’s standards but this is partly what makes De La Soul so enjoyable in the first place.
So, is First Serve ridiculous? Yes. Ocassionally cheesy? Certainly. Conceptually limp? Absolutely. But it is so refreshingly buoyant and flavoursome that it just doesn’t matter. This is sun dried hip-hop for a huge audience. Vintage De La Soul, in fact.