De La Soul

Are You In?

posted April 29, 2009 08:43:40 AM CDT | 25 comments

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As groups like Organized Konfusion [click to read], Brand Nubian [click to read] and A Tribe Called Quest [click to read] motion to reunite and make new music, Hip Hop must remember that De La Soul has never broken up - even hinted to it, never pursued solo interests and never damaged the brand that has worked for them for 20 years. Hip Hop's hippies no more, the three gentlemen from Long Island made it cool to be conscious, just as much as they influenced inside slang, mosaic sampling and in doing so, released three truly classic albums, with four more year-end-toppers to boot. Forever independent, De La Soul teamed with Nike to release Are You In?, the latest in a series of workout-minded original bodies of work, sold digitally to promote the Oregon-based athletic brand, and their various De La collaborations. As expected, the release is up-tempo, and the beats tailor towards Freestyle and Electronic more than Jazz or Soul. Like that or not, the lyrics remain razor sharp, and this digital-only release is more worth of CD distribution than most of what's been sold hand-to-hand.

For the group that released the first "three-sided single," it's not totally out of the norm that this 44-minute mix has no tracklisting. A non-stop mix, Are You In? does progress thematically, as a workout tape, with an opener, the Raheem DeVaughn-assisted "Good Morning," to the constant "pick up the pace" ad-libs from the guys through, clear to the bouncy "Victory Lap." The latter track begins with guitar chops, and Miami Bass percussion, driven by Rap-referencing tracks that touch on everything from Tupac and Biggie to Run-DMC. Pos powerfully says, "We ain't the newest/Far from the latest/Never ever get called the greatest/Yet we the truest." The words say a lot about De La's self-awareness, and the group's ability to revert back to the days of making crystal clear sense on sillier, party beats. Another record, "Shout," is reminiscent of Talib Kweli and Jean Grae's "Say Something," for it's prodding of confrontation. The quirky beat sounds as if it was crafted in Madlib's kitchen, for it's quick fades and obscure, isolated samples. Here, De La makes the records they've pushed to the front-line in the last decade, more aggressive, not asking for respect, but rather assuming it.

With the purpose of running and athletics in mind, De La Soul takes tempos akin to their Native Tongue brethren The Jungle Brothers' seminal first two albums. While the samples aren't as overt, Pos and Trugoy classically reference cadences and bars from everybody from N.W.A.'s [click to read] "100 Miles And Runnin'" to Ultramagnetic MC's [click to read] "Ease Back," to Stetsasonic's "Go Stetsa", as they cut through their fluid lectures, interpolating lyrics similar to how Maseo and Prince Paul once sampled beats. The Pop vocals and recurring use of guitar may challenge the more Soulful workings that De La unveiled with The Grind Date [click to read] and AOI releases. Production outfit Flosstradamus isn't Prince Paul, or Maseo, or J Dilla, but the Chicago-based deejay duo sprinkles in some polished, 2010 club hipsterism that pushes Amityville's greatest nicely against the Kid Cudi, Cool Kids and Wale [click to read] audiences, never losing an ounce of wisdom or seasoned style.

Like 2006's The Mission: Impossible TV mixtape, De La Soul doesn't present this as an album, nor do fans want them to. As a retail mixtape, this work may hint at De La's latest progressions, going into their third decade, but it's also to be assumed that Flosstradamus won't be fully at the helm for the next studio album. Regardless, Nike makes Hip Hop more fun than most labels this year, as this work meets the quality standard that's been going on since the D.A.I.S.Y. Age. Leave your rollerskates at home for this one, and put on your Air Maxes, however, it's still a damn good jam.

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