De La Soul is a veteran hip-hop trio. They first popped up on the “underground” hip-hop scene from Long Island in 1989 and quickly won massive critical acclaim. They were fresh, creative, energetic and devoid of bling. The good news is their sixth album, AOI: Bionix, the second installment in the planned Art Official Intelligence trilogy, is still largely characterized by those same descriptions.
The first single “Baby Phat” is the antithesis of Jay-Z’s “Girls Girls Girls.” “It’s not more than a little baby (phat phat)” goes the chorus. Rappers Dave, Maseo and Posdnous encourage woman to skip the salad and let it all hang out — they want to compliment large thighs and confident style. Is it refreshing or just a new version of objectification? Probably the latter, but it’s kinda cute anyway.
De La’s popularity has waned since 1989, mostly due to sporadic new releases. 2000’s Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump was the first new material since 1996, when they put out Stakes is High. But when they do release albums, they meet with well-earned praise. Bionix falls in line as a De La Soul production with rich variety in sampling and melody alongside their clever lyricisms. The songs are compositions with layers of sound and messages, deeper and more heartfelt than most hip-hop. For example, on “Held Down” — “My daughter walks in while I’m watching the news/ asking why all those people are sleeping covered in red/ I told her they were looking for God and found religion instead” Maybe this maturity is due to how long they’ve been around, and the fact that all members are in their 30s.
Given this year’s big name releases — Jay-Z and his assertion of divinity, P Diddy’s similar self-worship, and Ja Rule’s adolescent ballin’ — Bionix thankfully serves as a reminder that hip-hop still has soul.
The album has its annoying moments, a little too much filler, including Reverend Do Good’s “sermons,” and some female orgasm noises on a track called “Pawn Star.” The guest spots, especially Shell Council on the aforementioned song, are mostly extraneous, although sometimes humorous. De La Soul can do it by themselves, and the guests are nothing special. They are at their best musically when they reference old school funk and soul, combining it with a grounded lyrical expressiveness.
If you like good old school hip-hop and appreciate a little maturity while you groove to moaning and squealing, De La Soul is at the top of the genre and at the peak of their own skills.