De La Soul
The Grind Date
e La Soul Is Dead came five years too early; the freewheeling, French language-record sampling, plug tunin’ hip-hop oddity that was De La Soul died in 1996, the solid but stolid Stakes Is High their tombstone. The elder statesmen that emerged on that record, the ones who had “questions about life if you’re so ‘Ready To Die’”, worked completely without mentor Prince Paul for the first time, and the minimal beats showed it. They made a hit (“Oooh,” especially) and miss go of it for the first two records of the Art Official Intelligence trilogy, Mosaic Thump and Bionix, got dropped by Tommy Boy in humiliating fashion—the badly recorded Live At Tramps NYC 1996 taking the place of the third AOI record—and would be forgiven if they vanished forevermore into the depths of Amityville. But what some critics (myself included) thought were moves towards blandness were really the growing pains of becoming a grown-ass hip-hop group, possibly the first ever. And The Grind Date makes it all worth it.
The Grind Date is as notable for what it lacks—skits, filler, bullshit—than for what it has. Each of these twelve songs could plausibly be your favorite, or you could just pick one for every month of the year: the liner notes do happen to double as a 2005 calendar. With their production in excellent hands—Madlib, J-Dilla, 9th Wonder, newcomer Jake One, and the man responsible for many of the finest AOI beats, Supa Dave West—Posdonus and Dave could probably recite nursery rhymes and sound decent. But that’s not happening. They’re here to teach you the meaning of work (“The Grind Date”), the worth of hope (“Church,” an astounding 9th Wonder track rhythmically driven by a choir), and, um, the way that chick is playing you. Madlib’s crackling, Coke bottle-beat “Shopping Bags [She Got From You]” is among his sickest invasions yet, combining with the plugs’ surprising admiration of female manipulation into something hilariously hot.
As didactic as the album may get—Posdonus should have worked the Kerry campaign with lines like “The meek shall inherit the earth, but don’t forget / The poor are the ones who inherit the debt”—De La never sounds preachy or merely pissed off, except on the best song of all, “Rock Co.Kane Flow”, a rugged minefield battle track punctuated with a ridiculous stuttering beat to end every verse that should instantly make Jake One a star. Pos and Dave are in fine form, but there’s no shame in having your stage stolen by supervillain MF Doom when he’s coming up with lines like “Fam like the Partidges, pardon me for the mix-up / Battle for your Atari cartridges or put your kicks up, it’s a stick up”. Your microphone or your life: this is how much De La Soul loves hip-hop, and these are the stakes of The Grind Date. In a genre known for putting groups out of business before their time, De La has lived to fight another day.
Reviewed by: Josh Drimmer
Reviewed on: 2004-12-08