I generally see my self as a fairly accepting person and one who keeps a fairly what some might say “liberal view" on society and all its wonderful groups of people. White, black, straight, gay, male, female, asexual cyborg…it’s all good. However, lately I feel that I need to come to terms with a certain prejudice that I do have. It’s hard for me to say so I’ll be blunt: I hate old people.
Yes that’s right old people, and to be honest, I can’t pinpoint why I despise them so much. Maybe its maybes it’s the long-winded rants on fabric that I’ve been subjected to, or their universal penchant to get together in large groups in public and walked REALLY slow when I’m in a hurry (and if their not doing that, they’re breaking the speed limit in those little electric powerchairs). And let me tell you, that over-bearing aroma of vitamins and cat food does not help either. Some might say I’m a hypocrite because, I too, will one day be old, yet my same “liberal view" on drugs and alcohol suggests that I probably plan on not living that long. However, before I get branded as a rapid anti-eldite, I’m telling you this because I may need help, though lately, I’m starting to shed these hateful views as I realize more and more that there are still several old people who can kick it. For example, Bob Dylan is well into his 60s and is not only still making damn good music but is able to do while hanging out with Victoria’s Secret hoes in TV ads. Jack Lalane meanwhile is about 90 years old and he could still probably kick my as
s. I also hear he sells a mean juicer on TV. And as politically incorrect as it sounds, great American novelist Kurt Vonnegut is even funnier now that he’s going senile.
Now I said to myself, if folk, fitness, and fiction literature are able to uphold such wonderful talents, maybe…just maybe I can examine the stuff I like, like say rap music for instance. Unfortunately though, rap seems to fall victim to my prejudices as well as these days it seems that the shelf life of the average rapper is the equivalent to that of processed cheese: They hype themselves up, get their big single and then their careers are sent out on the proverbial ice flow to die a cold and lonely death (sans polar bears). But there are a few who manage to avoid this process. De La Soul is one such example, and dude, by rap standards De La Soul are goddamn old.
Yes, I’m sure that for the guys in De La, it seems like only yesterday when their groundbreaking LP Three Feet High & Rising
was redrawing the limitations on rap’s capacity as a genre when it was still in the process of being rigorously co-opted by major labels. And then came those awkward middle years in the 1990s when they began to experiment with their sound, get a little darker and cynical, and generally find that it was a good idea to shoot a rap video by ripping of The Wizard of Oz
What the hell were they on?). Fortunately for the trio, consisting of MCs Pos’ and Dave plus DJ/producer Maseo, with age comes wisdom and this is what is indicative of their latest release, 2004’s The Grind Date
. Sure, rap is fun for the moment like cheap beer, but this album underscores the notion that like a good bottle of Irish whiskey, it only gets better with age.
And if anything, the effort put into by De La Soul on The Grind Date
reveals an interesting twist of fate among rap’s older generation. I mean back in the 1980s, the members of De La Soul with their infatuation for conscious lyrics, loud clothing and the hippie movement were musical lightweights compared to gangsta artists at the time like NWA and Ice-T were hard-as
ckahs. Now fast forward more than 15 years and where are these guys now? Ice Cube has gone Hollywood (the same one he wanted to burn down) and doing family flicks while Ice-T who originally sang about killing cops, now plays one on TV. De La Soul on the other hand, as rhetorical as is sounds, are still “true to the scene": They’re not the biggest of stars though lately they experienced a surge of mainstream popularity due to the massive success of “Feel Good, Inc." by Gorillaz, which feature the group. For better or worse and through their constant connection to their Long Island community, they’ve developed an album that sounds their most authentic since their youthful years. The Grind Date
, put bluntly, is simply a great rap album.
However, not only is much of this sound has come as a result of the knowledge and expertise that they’ve garnered over the years but also from the influence they’ve bestowed upon the contemporary generation of ground-breaking rap artists and this album largely incorporates that sound into theirs in a very seamless manner. Though where production stands, long-time De La associate Supa Dave West handles the bulk of this work, contributions by 9th Wonder, Madlib and the late J-Dilla flesh out some of the best sonic qualities of the group. Meanwhile, the rapping not only showcases Pos’ and Dave in top form, but guest verses by a plethora of rappers—Ghostface, Common, MF Doom—show that they are certainly still up to task.
So, what about the songs? The album opens up with The Future
. Starting with some rising vocal loops and strings that soon cut into a very warm and atmospheric beat. As the verse kicks in to a new timbre as rhythmic jazzy guitar sample over Dave’s sharp rhymes:
I jump back, put the aim on my shot
It's mandatory, handle glory over with the rock
I'm not a rough guy but a tough guy to beat over drums
No son to this, I'm a rhyme bastard
Some mastered the art of cash, but not the part that lasts
and disappear after doin two albums
We're not your normal team and we still do ours to fit
hope inside this, don't define it's
quits for those who oppose the new
Playin they've outgrown rap like a size 5 shoe
Through this, De La already suggest the previously suggested sentiments concerning their age in the rap world and to those that have lasted as long as they have in it. The next two tracks both feature the production of the recently departed J-Dilla, Verbal Clap
and Much More
. The former is among most De La’s most aggressive-sounding ever as Pos and Dave take turns spitting fiery battle rhymes over J-Dilla’s dense and ominous soundscape composed of a deep beat, Eastern melodies, cold synthesizers, and thick horn shots. The latter showcase Dilla’s more clean and contemporary sound that is both sublime and soulful, over some smooth rapping. Both are catchy as hell.
Meanwhile, the title track The Grind Date
is arguably one of the most catchy and inspirational rap songs in this new era. Perpetually happy but in a hopeful sort of way the raps reflect De La’s graceful aging:
I was raised in those blue collar themes
havin' white collar dreams cause I see what it means
and though the meek shall inherit the earth but don't forget
the poor are the ones who inherit the debt
you can bet I got better things to do than that
I was a dick who got jerked by Tom and his boys
came on my land, seized my cattle, and catalog
as if it wouldn't leave me less than coy
but I'm far from bitter even farther from quittin'
got a grind date to make, no time for sittin'
and playin' xbox, stand up and exercise my rights
as of by seen of through masta's eye
it's the grind date
Short and sweet, this track is styled over a wondrously upbeat Yes sample and a sharp beat. The melodies are disgustingly catchy; It kinda sounds like “21 Questions" except Fiddy got shot up with Prozac instead of bullets. With the selection of producers on this album he sonic ranges here manage to be varied but at the same still possess that cohesive De La signature.It’s Like That
is a breezy tune that is underscored by an icy electric piano melody and smoothing clapping. Come on Down
, produced by Madlib and featuring Nordic protege Flava Flav, has a bouncy South Bronx sound that sounds like it doesn’t mind being stuck in the 1970s.
meanwhile, is another stand-out track that documents the trio’s ability to play into the more modern progressive sounds of rap today. A whimsical soul sample breaks into a wonderful beat created from a valiant horn melody and dry rhythms. As well, De La’s flows are still as innovative as ever and provide an appropriate but interesting contrast to Ghostface’s one-of-a-kind manic raps. The end result is an enveloping track that particularly great through headphones. Rock Co.Kane Flow
has MF Doom in it and as I far as I know, he still generally rules, using his verse to rap about breakfast cereal mascots and use words that don’t exist.
Still, this album has its faults. The single Shopping Bags
is certainly catchy. It is also certainly innovational for trying to channel the prestige of the track but utilizing the sound of clinking champagne glasses as the beat, but its piercing pitch can wear on the ears rather quickly (insert old person deaf joke here). As well, 9th Wonder’s beat on Church
is kinda bland and as a result, showcases the potential sluggishness of De La. In some places on this album, it seems that they haven’t always gotten the best of the aging process. As well, De La’s “conscious" heavy streak in their lyrics isn’t anything that hasn’t been heard before, but whether you want to blame their age for that is debatable.
And then there’s that obvious question? How does this compare to 3 Feet High & Rising
as it’s the album the group is best known for. Well, to put it bluntly, this album is certainly sonically different from their debut as the gone is the youthful carefree attitude and eclectic sounds. The Grind Date
is merely a reassertion of those principles in a more developed context spanning from the trio’s maturity in the industry. Though I see this as a natural progression of their careers, others may argue that this sound is just De La co-opting themselves into the homogenizing industry to save their careers.
All in all, this is a wonderfully engaging album that is catchy, soulful, and clever. De La Soul may never recreate the sound of their debut from their early years, but it demonstrates that experience in the industry is definitely capable of being a benefit. So hey, maybe old people aren’t so bad after all. I think I finally learned something today…
And now to tell you about my real
confession: I hate Family Guy.
Final Rating: 4/5
Recommended Tracks: The Grind Date
Here He Comes