It’s staggering to think that De La Soul’s first album 3 Feet High And Rising came out 27 years ago. Despite the huge success of that record, and its subsequent influence on a whole host of artists, the trio never really recaptured its commercial heights. Much of their loss of momentum following that record was due to the rise of Gangsta Rap, which was distinctly at odds with the positive message and artistry that De La Soul put forth with their music alongside contemporaries like A Tribe Called Quest.
Hip Hop has taken many twists and turns since 1989 when their debut was released, not least where we are at now with behemoth acts like Kanye West and Jay-Z dominating not just the genre, but much of popular music. And it seems a shame that groups like De La Soul are lost in their shadow, for as much as their music may not have seemed as edgy as NWA or Public Enemy or indeed newer artists, they were perhaps braver in those positive messages and innovative use of samples and jazz beats. And The Anonymous Nobody is the perfect record to remind you why they are still very much relevant and why they should be cherished.
On their Kickstarter funded ninth record they have opted for a host of collaborators. Calling in a bunch of high profile names can be the sign of a lack of ideas or confidence in a project, but this is far from the case here. Lead single Pain, featuring Snoop Dogg, is a perfect example of a band at the height of their powers. Its understatedly funky rhythms and Snoop’s trademark laid-back, smooth delivery hit the mark.
Other guest slot highlights include the Estelle featuring Memory Of… which includes one of the album’s many memorable melodies, and in contrast to much of modern hip hop’s output it isn’t as flashy, which adds to its charm. The Little Dragon guest slot on Drawn perfectly melds their talents with De La Soul’s in a very natural way. The album was apparently born of many jam sessions, and on tracks like this one that is apparent, as it feels a very organic confluence.
Damon Albarn also shows up to repay the favour of their Grammy Award winning turn on Gorillaz‘ Feel Good Inc. Here In After is a gem of a track that benefits from interesting use of beats and rhythms, a shining guitar line and it also has one of the record’s most beguiling melodies. Added to which the chorus’s refrain of “we’re still here now” is touching and celebratory paean to the band. Albarn adds some loose vocals in between the trio’s rhymes that make for a lovely addition.
Much like the Little Dragon featuring track, Snoopies allows its collaborator’s personality to shine through. David Byrne is instantly recognisable, not just from the sound of his voice, but also through the familiar rhythms he tends to sing in. It’s a generosity on De La Soul’s part that they don’t dictate, but rather allow for the respective talents of their guests to shine.
It’s not just the guest featuring tracks that shine though, as De La Soul also fly solo for many of the record’s high points. Royalty Capes has some wonderfully jazzy touches, and CBGBS is a fun guitar-driven interlude. Trainwreck rings out a cow bell and has some of the trio’s best rhyme deliveries, along with an addictive bass line. Exodus (Outro) is the deal clincher though. A sparse, yet ultimately, incredibly moving song where De La Soul lay claim to the band that they are. As they rap, “People think we are linked with the solving/with the problem thats revolving around music today/but its not true we just do it our way cuz we’re not you/we embraced you like brothers” they both lay claim to their individuality whilst remaining open to the music of others.
And The Anonymous Nobody is a more than worthy edition to their legacy, proving how relevant this treasure of a band is. “We are the present, past and still the future/bound by friendship fuelled and inspired by what’s at stake,” they say. It’s great to hear De La Soul on such tirelessly positive form.