Wednesday, 14 September 2016

We're Still Here (now)... a documentary about nobody

Check out this great documentary on the making of the new De La Soul album ...and the Anonymous Nobody.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

De La Soul - and the Anonymous Nobody

It has been eleven years sine Dave, Maseo and Posdnous blessed us with an album and the world is a very different place to what it was when they released the Grind Date in 2004.  As a way of allowing the Plugs complete freedom this album was funded via Kickstarter with De La offering a wide range of rewards for fans who backed their 8th studio album.  The creative process behind this was project was handled entirely by De La allowing them to take total control of the growth of this project.  The approach is unique certainly to De La and possibly the genre itself.   The funds gathered from the Kickstarter process was used to hire a strong group of talented musicians, The Rhythm Roots Allstars and the group embarked on months of jam sessions that were recorded and then sampled as opposed to the traditional Hip Hop route that the group had followed in the past. De La recorded over two hundred hours of music with a collective of LA based musicians and this was the foundation upon which this project grew.  This is good in my opinion for two reasons; financially, its damn cheaper than sampling especially when you are a sample heavy group like De La and and secondly it allows a level of unique creativity often missing from modern sample and synth loaded Hip Hop. They have said that the idea for this grew out of touring with a live band over the last few years and that they felt that if they went the conventional record label route they would not have been afforded this freedom.

Alongside this De La recruited a wide range of artists to join them on this  musical journey; Snoop Dogg, Jill Scott, Damon Albarn, Talking Head's David Byrne, Usher, Justin Hawkins of the Darkness, Pete Rock, Roc Marciano, Estelle, 2 Chainz and Swedish Pop Group Little Dragon.  As you can see this is a wide range of artists from an even wider range of genres that have not been known for sitting nicely alongside Hip-Hop.  Although De La have worked with artists that sit at a juxtaposition to themselves it has often been for side projects or soundtrack tunes rather than on their own albums.

The album is 17 tracks long including skits and comes in at one hour and seven minutes.  It is produced by De la and executively produced by Jordan Katz.  Its available on the various streaming services, download, CD and two types of vinyl; regular and coloured vinyl.  During the Kickstarter campaign they had hoped to raise $110,000 however exceeded that and we left in a position where they had more money to spend on this project than any previous projects.  Does this allow De La to create a cohesive project that sits alongside the rest of their catalogue as another strong release for one of Hip-Hop's most consistent and enduring groups?

The album starts off with an introduction called "Genesis" featuring the amazing Jill Scott produced by the Anonymous Nobodies.  orchestral strings provide the backdrop for her narrative monologue.  Jill doesnt sing on this intro but simply talks and asks the listener questions about when they love something and how they love something.  Her voice, accent and tone make her melodic even when she is just talking.  Her words are thought provoking and provide a nice introduction to the album.

The second track on the album is called "Royalty Capes" and comes in at three minutes and 46  seconds and is produced by Plug Too, 

  • The Anonymous Nobodies and 
  • Davey Chegwidden
  • . It begins with a vocal sample and trumpet fanfare.  A marching beat with a jazz infused horns sample running throughout provide a backdrop for the Plugs to spit to.  The snares are crisp, the horns sample is joined by the aforementioned fanfare from time to timeas well as some subtle strings making fleeting appearances.  Lyrically its typical De La with metaphors and similes throughout that often take a moment for you to interpret before you go back an get what they meant.  At which point a knowing smile appears on the listener's face, its that De La knowing that made us smile on 3 Feet, Buhloone, AOI, Grind Date and the rest.  There is a female MC dropping spoken word ad libs where a chorus would traditionally however, this is De La and tradition has little place on this album even less so than their previous ventures.

    The third track is "Pain" and features Snoop Dogg and comes in at 4:40 minutes and produced by De La Soul.  This feels like a Grand Date era track with and up beat tempo and a female vocalist providing the chorus.  There are nice hammond organ sounding stabs alongside nice bass guitar riffs.    Plug Won drops the first verse with the Dogg coming in for the second and Dave for the third.  Snoop lacadaisical flow suites the track well and his style works alongside the Dave and Plug Won.  There are some nice 80s sounds synth loops for the chorus that suite the vocals well.  All three emcees speak on their struggles and pain however it still feels like a joyful song despite the subject matter.  It feels like it a summer song, to be played in the sun.

    Property of is the fourth track the album and clocks in at over five and a half minutes and is produced by Dave and Plug Too.  This track kicks things up a notch or two.  It begins with a computer voice introducing you to then brings in some sharp snares over a mellow synth loop.  The beat is mid tempo and the samples are mellow providing a nice laid back track.  The chorus, if you can call it that is provided by Roc Marciano along with the second verse.  I have long been a fan of the Pete Rock collaborator, Roc and his blunted style is well suited to this track.  Again we have Pos at the top of the track followed by the Guest MC, Roc Marciano and then Dave to finish the track off.

    "Memory of... (US)" is the fifth track of the album and it features Estelle and Pete Rock coming in just under five minutes.  Londoner, Estelle shows us she is way more than talented rapper and is actually a great singer too providing soft soulful vocals throughout.  Pete Rock produces an amazing track, from the muted drums to the orchestral strings and the fantastically subliminal horns and piano chords.  The Plugs drops mellow verses, talking of love and first encounters.  I could listen to this on loop all day long and now get bored.  I love this joint, it is exactly what you would want from a De La Pete Rock collaboration the likes of which we have not heard since the often bootlegged "Stay Away" from back in 2000.  

    The next track, "CBGB's" is more of an interlude than a full track clocking in at only 1:21 minute and produced by Dave and Plug Too.  Its upbeat and rock tinged with a great baseline.  It should have been a full track because its damn good.

    Track seven, "Lord Intended"  could be the winner of the most surprising collaboration of the year award.  It is a hard, rock tainted track featuring guitar and chorus by Justin Hawkins of The Darkness (Yes them)and produced by The Anonymous Nobodies.  The track just works in a similar way to the Rick Rubin produced Jay-Z joint "99 Problems" .  Its a long joint at over seven minutes and during the middle of the track Justin provides a  vocal solo over a piano, guitar and drums.  For a moment you almost forget its part of the same track but then the hard rock element returns with along guitar solo to finish of the track. A fun and enjoyable twist that works well.

    The next track takes the album in another totally different direction as David Byrne joins De La for "Snoopies".  Its produced by Supa Dave West, a long time De La collaborator.  It begins with a funky guitar loop shortly joined by David Byrne's haunting and almost angry vocals.  A rock guitar soon accompanies him before the track takes a twist and this is where Dave comes in over a guitar loop and some nice scratches from Maseo.  Money Mark drops a few keyboard jabs and then David Byrne comes in agin to provide a bridge between the verses again with the heavy guitar and drums.  Then its back to the mellow beat with a Plug Won dropping gems this time.  I like tracks that take you on a journey and this one does this as it goes form one genre to another in the space of four minutes and fifteen seconds.

    The ninth track of the album is the five and half minutes long "Greyhounds" featuring Usher. This sees De La return to the social commentary of past songs that is so often missing form Hip Hop these days.  Taking us through the journey of a girl leaving her home town for the big city.  Its a heartbreaking story and you know it's not a happy one and Usher's vocals work well over the Ethan Philips produced track to provide further emotion to the track.  The song talks of the changes one makes moving from their home town to the big city, the changes to one's personality that can never be reversed.  The beat itself is a mid tempo number with haunting synths and keyboard stabs throughout.  

    The tenth track is another interlude closing in at just over a minute and a half, "Sexy Bitch" is produced by Plug Won.  It's just long enough for Plug Won to drop sixteen bars over an upbeat track with crunchy snares and a slight baseline.  It highlights the misogny so common in Hip Hop.

    Supa Dave West produces "Trainwreck" which weighs in at three minutes and eighteen seconds.  Theres plenty of cowbell in this joint as well as a nice beat.  We get two verses; one from Plug Won and the other from Dave with Ad libs for the chorus.  Theres even some nice flutes samples at certain points.  A nice albeit short track.

    The twelfth track of the album is "Drawn", it features the Swedish Electronic group Little Dragon and is produced by The Anonymous Nobodies and lasts five and a half minutes.  It begins with some nice strings and a high haunting voice singing throughout.  In fact there is only this voice singing of the interesting track.  There are no verses from any of the trio only the singing from Little Dragon.  As we reach the midway point of the song when you start to think this is when the rapping will start instead we are given cymbals and a cello.  Which is nice and I do like it but where is the rapping?  well we get a quick verse in the last thirty seconds which is dope and well written but another verse would have given the song a lot more.

    Track number thirteen is "Whoodeeni" featuring 2Chainz and produced by Plug Too and last for four and half minutes.  The track features an upbeat tempo with electronic sounding samples over s answer and Hi Hat.  First verse is by Plug Won with 2Chainz next and then Dave.  Its enjoyable enough however I do not feel that 2Chainz adds a great deal to the song and it almost feels like he has been put in there to get some new Hip- Hop fans on board.  Maybe I just don't get the attraction of his style but it felt to me somewhat out of place. Its not a bad track perhaps it will grow on me.

    Track fourteen is called "Nosed up" is produced by Supa Dave West and lasts just under four minutes.  It is a fast upbeat track featuring a great bass guitar sample alongside some other percussion.  We have funky horns coming in for the chorus along with deep vocal samples.  De La not only drop two great verses but they also provide some singing towards the end of the track.  Its an upbeat happy song that works well.

    We get a brief interlude of just over a minute and a half called the "Here after" produced by The Anonymous Nobodies, Phillips and Chegwidden.  Its a humours little interlude the kind of which we've come to expect from De La Soul.

    The penultimate track of the album is called "Here in after" and features guest vocals from Damon Albarn and produced by The Anonymous Nobodies, Rastegar, Lopez and Chegwidden.  This five and a half minute wonder is such and uplifting joint that is so infectious that you start off tapping your feet an after a minute of it you just want to dance.  The tempo builds to a crescendo of guitar riffs and cymbals before it reaches a point where it turns to the left field.  It became a more mellow joint at this point with Damon providing mellow introspective vocals. as it mellows out we get some nice flutes and horns. As the song begins to fade we get an uncredited female singing and it works well as the song fades out.  The chorus and ad libs tell us De La Soul is still here and I couldn't agree more.  

    The album ends with a track called "Exodus" produced by The Anonymous Nobodies lasting just under three and a half minutes.  Its a nice finish to the album with strings and crisp snares over which De La reminisce over what they have achieved over the years.  Its a fitting end to a great album.

    Overall my view of this album is that it is beautifully chaotic and varied.  At times showing the versatility and bravery of the group to step outside the realm of traditional Hip-Hop whilst creating greta music with talented collaborators. Although the guests take the music in new directions every song is undeniably De La Soul and unmistakably Hip-Hop.  This album shows what Hip-Hop can be; fun, intelligent, varied whilst passing social commentary without being preachy.  The Kickstarter route has allowed the group the creativity they deserve and this has allowed them to give their fans what they deserve.  A strong, fun, interesting and ground breaking album that will make people dance and smile.  Superb.
    If you want to hear few tracks from this album along with De La Classics, rare tracks and remixes why not check out my radio show on Crackers radio on DAB in London and Manchester, at or via the app.  Just search for Crackers radio.

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