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De La Soul work the contradiction cash cow

De La Soul


Tommy Boy

I always like hip-hop lyrics because they talk about life. I could care less for the fantasy, macho hype crap. I like lyrics that tell the truth. The truth can be depressing. The truth doesn’t always make you want to be a good consumer.

The truth is different for us all. The majority of us, those not in control of all the wealth, deal with the similar struggles, regardless of race. We all have to live together and survive. I like acknowledging difficulties and maintaining a positive outlook. That’s how I survive.

De La Soul has always rapped the truth, and represented a positive mind state as well. They know how to drop intelligent music that uplifts and entertains. You can rock a De La Soul album alone to feel the lyrics and dance with yourself, or you can rock a De La Soul album at a party, feel the bass-lines and hooks and dance with other people.

AOI: Bionix, the follow up to last year’s AOI: Mosaic Thump is almost classic De La Soul, and damn good. I say almost because they’re trying to keep up in the game. Mosaic Thump had a Jammin’ 95.5-ready sound. The intelligence factor on the lyrics was low, or the thug mentality was high.

Bionix brings funky tunes with good lyrics, and some radio jams, also with good lyrics. They want to rock everyone. They could release some tight, intelligent somewhat underground stuff, but they have other ideas. “Unlike these underground MC’s who rock for heads/we include the throat chest arms and legs,” Posdnuos raps on “Bionix.” Later, on “Watch Out,” Dave raps, “They’d die for the underground/but they ain’t makin no money.”

They want everyone to love ’em, and that’s hard. They want to make good music, but push some units. They admit frequently that they want to settle down with some green to lay on. I guess you can’t fault anyone for that. The problem is that the people dropping disposable income on records are predominantly white, suburban teens. It’s those kids and others who can’t handle a dose of reality, or anything with a message, who De La must work to please. In the process, they could alienate some of old fans who will accuse them of selling out by making commercial, meaningless schlock.

I haven’t written them off yet. Not by a long shot. I would only hate them if they didn’t stay true to their positive intelligent and fun old ways at all. They’ve grown up. They must work with contradictions. How do you seem down with the kids and also represent truth to the old head? Very carefully. There’s plenty of talk about being dads, good partners in relationships and struggling to do the right thing. That’s what hip-hop needs. They talk about how they want to settle down in a monogamous relationship, but they deal with their urges to “freak ho’s.”

What’s best about this formula for successful contradictions is that it turns some fans of meaningless mainstream stuff onto some positive forward thinking. It also keeps old fans and bitter hippies like me, who only want positive socially conscious shit, happy.

They have stayed true enough. The album has its share of radio-ready meaningless sex and bravado, which should appeal to those mainstream heads and teens. Then it has the intelligent, socially conscious message tracks for the rest of us. For three dudes in their 30s who’ve been in the game for over 12 years and have released six albums, it isn’t easy to please everyone. The catchy tunes, balance of themes and funky production should come close.

There are some standout tracks on this album. A few have grown on me. A few are still trying. Some hooks and rhymes have been in my head for a week.

The single, “Baby Phat,” doesn’t really grab me. It sounds a little too geared for radio and has a kind of choppy beat, but there are some good sounds in the background. I appreciate the message though. It’s a message to women who may be considered by our shrinking societal tastes to be overweight. They’re saying be happy with how you look, because you look good. The De La fellas are sportin’ a little baby fat themselves.

The first one that permanently planted itself in my head was the catchy “Simply.” It’s driven by a laid-back P-Funky keyboard jam riff. What makes the song is the chorus tune from Paul McCartney’s Wings’ “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time.” Sounds corny, like it could never work, huh? It can. The new chorus drops some feel good advice. “Take some time to ease your mind, when you’re simply havin’ a wonderful time, a beautiful time, leave the trouble you find at home.” It’s a catchy hook that anyone would groove to at a party. De La’s rhymes are all about what the chorus advises. Damn good advice.

The first song on this disc that perked my ears was the gospel choir-filled groover, “Held Down.” This is what I want hip-hop to do. Talk about social ills, from economic inequality to wack thinking. It’s basically about following dreams and doing what’s right, not easy but a worthy mission. When the Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo sings the chorus I get chills and raise my hands to sky. Posdnuos always hits me right. He drops a memorable chorus on this cut: “And when I’m watching the news/and my daughter walk in/To choose to ask/Why were all the people on the floor, sleeping, covered in red/I told her, they came looking for God but found religion instead.”

I’ve usually don’t like skits and interludes on rap, this album is no exception. They bring back the “Ghost Weed” skit. It’s kind of funny, but pandering to an audience who finds corny talk about weed funny. Which I do, when I’m stoned, maybe. They do a weed debate with B-Real from Cypress Hill on “Peer Pressure” that is pretty good. Once again, they work the contradictions. They don’t make an assertion either for or against weed, they just rhyme about both sides. That should please us all.

The other recurring skit is the “Reverend Do Good,” featuring Troy Hightower. He has an interesting take on Jesus’ presence. “When you put your toast in the toaster, who pop up? Jesus.” I can’t tell if the skits intend to spread the word or critique the establishment. They’re just mildly funny. More ambiguity and contradiction. I love it.

“Watch Out” starts with a Cuban jam straight out of Cuba via New York. Then the marimba hook carries over into a tight beat.

In argument number one for relationships and monogamy, “Special,” Pos and Dave do what a lot of good guys do. They apologize, promise to be better, and promise to try and work it out. Elizabeth “Yummy” Bingham responds strongly on the R&B chorus, saying cut the bullshit and make it special. If you’re in a relationship, you’ll feel it.

De La’s multiple personalities play out on the intro to “The Sauce.” The inspirational message-heavy hook from the previous cut, “Trying People,” starts. Then guest artist Philly Black comes out and says “I told you about all them message’s and shit … We’ll get to that later … Let’s do something for the ladies, let’s get a chorus or something going on.” This track is the requisite “We’re good MC’s, you wack MC’s should put down the mic,” song every album must have. The painful irony is that there’s no tight chorus for the ladies.

The next cut, “Am I Worth You?” is kind of a laid back jam that I think the ladies would like. Glenn Lewis drops a smooth chorus about doing the best you can with life. De La admits they like money, and want it.

They do the best they can, in music, life and relationships. “Me and my comrades became dads young/trying to have fun amongst responsibilities/like filling these accounts full/and getting caught up in the partying bull/sometimes you gotta have the nerve to say some rhymes/because some minds take offense/try to take ya life/but we still here/still gaining the love.” As we all know, it ain’t always easy.

Bionix Closes with a classic, “Trying People.” They sum up their themes of doing the right thing, both now and future, and pushing the hate aside for love and making family life work.

I wish all music could rock a party and help me deal with shit and understand what it is to be alive. De La Soul has worked out a good formula for success by using contradictions and pleasing us all. It’s good enough. Next year they release AOI part three, which is supposed to be more of a DJ-driven party album. After that last cash cow, I bet these old men hang it up.