AOI: Bionix
Record label: Tommy Boy
Format: 2xLP/CD
Release date: 4 December 2001

Who would’ve ever thought that the day would come when even De La fans wouldn’t be excited about a new album? Or even look at a new joint skeptically? But after Mosaic Thump dropped (the first installment of the three-part Art Official Intelligence series), heads couldn’t believe that this was the same three Plugs that stomped a mud hole in the rap game’s ass with Stakes Is High. Far be it from me to make excuses about that last album – I wasn’t feelin’ a lot of it, myself – but the fun they have on Mosaic Thump is almost equal to the amount of bile they spit on Stakes. Answer honestly: which would you rather be in this life – happy or pissed-off? Prior to Mosaic, the Soul done spent three albums’ worth of energy being pissed off.

But I’m here to testify and spread some good news: there’s still plenty reason to get excited about De La. Bionix is certainly "better, stronger, faster" than the first installment. Pos and Dave are still coming with infinite insight on the mic and, for the most part, the beats are lovely. "Supa" Dave West handles most of the production and totally makes up for kicking off Mosaic Thump on such a sour note ("Life (U Can Do)" was total throwaway fodder). "Simply" is a sparkling gem of a cut reworking Paul McCartney’s "Wonderful Christmas Time" (my favorite Christmas song ever) and some tasty Cal Tjader samples bring much vibes to "Watch Out." And I must admit that the first single ("Baby Phat") has grown on me, mainly because Plugs Won and Two show love for sisters with meat on their bones.

De La has scaled back their time behind the boards, only handling the interludes and skits. The "Rev. Do Good" sequences are hysterical – props to mix engineer Troy Hightower for his animated portrayal of the Rev. And check Jay Dee’s work on the dope-smoking "Peer Pressure," featuring Cypress Hill’s B-Real as the ultimate advocate for blazin’ up. The only songs that fall short are "What We Do (For Love)" and "Pawn Star." The former features Slick Rick rockin’ rhymes that sound like outtakes from his first album and the beat – produced by Megahertz – sounds like the theme for a hidden level on Super Mario Brothers gone bad. And then there’s "Pawn Star": "The following explicit content expressed by ‘Pawn Star’ do not necessarily reflect the opinions of De La Soul...BUT, THEY UNDERSTAND." Yeah, right. I can still laugh at "De La Orgee"...ain’t nothin’ funny about Shell Council. They some NASTY nigroes. Whatever semen-stained bathroom full of Hustler and Black Tail magazines you pulled these urban degenerates out of, PLEASE THROW THEM BACK IN IT. And make sure the door locks from the outside, would ya?

But even these stumbling blocks are worth it to get to "Trying People," one of the most introspective cuts De La has made since "I Am I Be." Def 2 U’s production is perfection, with French horns, the vocal harmonies of The 5th Dimension, and a bass line that intercepts your heartbeat. Pos and Dave speak on getting older in the rap game, raising kids, trying to balance their family and career responsibilities, and making attempts to get through to hardened youths. Pos’s solo joint ("Held Down") is just as good, if not better. He pours his heart out on this one and shows why he is one of the finest lyricists out there. He also produced this one on this own (gotta love a man who’s smart enough to sample Serge Gainsbourg), infusing the track with gospel buildups. At one point, I thought I was in church, especially with Goodie M.O.B.’s Cee-Lo gettin’ all Rev. Al Green on the chorus.

Yep, I like this album. So much so that I had to stop playing it for a while for fear of wearing it out within a week‘s time. De La has given their fans the greatest gift: hip-hop for grown folks. Thanks for the Soul, fellas...we needed it desperately.

{chloe knuckles}

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