CLASSIC ALBUMS features ROCK THE BELLS writers getting together to discuss some of the greatest albums in Hip-Hop history. A track-by-track breakdown of the essentials; what we like, what we don't. We explore Hip-Hop's canon without pretension or prejudice.
De La Soul opened the 2000s as the longest running act from the Native Tongues. It had been four years since their critically acclaimed but still somehow underrated fourth album Stakes Is High, and De La reached back to some of their early career goofball-ism (the "Ghost Weed" skits are forever hilarious) while embracing the heightened commentary and craftsmanship of Stakes... And the group collaborated with a broad cross-section of like-minded producers and high profile guest artists.
The result was one of the best albums of the early 2000s, as Pos, Dave and Maseo teamed with J. Dilla, Rockwilder, Prince Paul, Busta Rhymes, Tha Alkaholiks, Redman and more for what was intended to be the first in a trilogy called Art Official Intelligence. Fans never got that trilogy, (AOI: Bionix arrived in 2001, but a third DJ-focused album never materialized) but they nonetheless got a classic in this first installment.
"Spitkicker.com / Say R. (Intro)"
Alec: I suppose the elephant in the room is that AOI is not Stakes is High. That's one of my problems with classic Hip-Hop; artists are always evaluated based on their strongest project. You wouldn't do that after MJ scored 63 on the Celtics in the Boston Garden or after the Flu Game. With that being said, we're introduced to the world of Mosaic Thump with something that sets the table.
Stereo: Truthfully, I revisit this album more than Stakes... now. I like the return to some of their early career goofiness. They seem a little less preoccupied with the "state of Hip-Hop" and sound like De La just being De La.
"U Can Do (Life)"
Alec: I know it's probably cliché, but this is just a great song. I don't think enough people have written about how well Dave and Pos compliment each other. I think it has a lot to do with their vocal qualities which are more similar in nature than say Q-Tip and Phife. My favorite part of the song is where they share the last 16 bars towards the end. Stereo, are they criminally underrated as lyricists?
Stereo: Absolutely. A lot of great emcee pairings are great because they're polar opposites but Pos and Dave complement each other because they're so similar and by blending so well. They both are remarkably consistent rhymers and this is probably my favorite song on the album.
"My Writes" (featuring Tha Alkaholiks and Xzibit)"
Alec: It's not quite a posse cut how most people interpret the organizing principal, but it has that energy. It's just pure Hip-Hop with a chorus that gives it a little room to breathe.
Stereo: Ooooooh! The energy on this one is beyond infectious and Tha Liks are the perfect complement. This is just dopeass rap shit.
"Oooh." (featuring Redman)"
Alec: I think this song was both a blessing and a curse for De La. On one hand, it's as catchy as a pop tune. But on the other hand, I think it was jarring for a lot of fans. Don't get me wrong, I love this song, but it gave me pause when this was the first single from AOI. Call me a traditionalist...
Stereo: For me, this is another thing that reminds me of early De La, they always had catchy songs that were great for the radio. Aside from the Redman cameo, this isn't all that different than their other Prince Paul-related hits. And I love that crazy ass Wizard Of Oz video.
"Thru Ya City" (featuring D.V. Alias Khrist)"
Alec: This is arguably one of my two favorite tracks on the album. J DIlla and De La are just a match made in heaven. Whatever BPM this song is programmed at is absolutely perfect. I also really like how The Lovin' Spoonful sample is actually worked in and referenced.
Stereo: Yeah this is another one of my favorites here. This is just a super infectious track that sounds perfect for radio. When it comes to the hookier, slicker side of J. Dilla productions, it's one of my favorites.
"I.C. Y'All" (featuring Busta Rhymes)"
Alec: Rockwilder is a producer who I don't think gets enough credit. You talk about guys who have signature sounds: Preemo, Dilla, Timbo. How come Rockwilder doesn't enter that conversation. As soon as his beat comes on, you know it's hist. He — and this song — are both criminally underrated.
Stereo: Busta is outta his damn mind on this track. You can't match his energy here; and Rockwilder is the secret weapon on lotsa classics. It's ridiculous how slept on the production is here.
Alec: "I want it big like white boy wallets/ Credit delivered, Fed-Excellent/ To my dot com, we on the web like Charlotte's."
Stereo: Another track they produced themselves and it's another album highlight for me. That flip of Roland Kirk, Pos and Dave are both on their A game. A head-nodder; laid-back rhyming that shows how great their chemistry is.
"Set The Mood" (featuring Indeed)
Alec: This is the song I've most consistently revisited since the album came out. Is it the best, who knows? But for me, it's just a great song. I've tried to do some research and find out what happened to Indeed, but struck out. And of course, who can forget the Ghost Weed sketch at the end with Phife? I still crack up when someone says, "You know how I know you're not Phife, you would have said, "you own the Knicks or something..."
Stereo: "My Art is Official while you're art-ificial/Break you down to your very last participle/Let me enlighten you, cause your third eye's on dim/Me gettin' taken out is rare like a smile from Rakim..." I think the track is produced by Da Bush Babees. And the "Ghost Weed" skits are some of the best of the era.
"All Good?" (featuring Chaka Khan)
Stereo: I still don't get why this song wasn't bigger twenty years ago. Chaka is Chaka, the verses are dope (I still quote the "it's not about being hot/It's about whether you can handle being cold or not" line. One of their best singles ever And love the video
Alec: For me, this should have been the lead single off the album. The vibe is as good in 2020 as it was in 2000.
Alec: While I certainly love all of the features on the album, it's nice to get a purely De La Soul song.
Stereo: Brilliant, thoughtful lyricism that sounds so effortless here. And, to me, it's the song that sounds the most like Stakes Is High era De La.
"Squat!" (featuring Mike D & Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys)
Stereo: I love the Beastie Boys and I love Mike D and Ad-Rock's energy on this record. They're two of Hip-Hop's longest running and most unapologetically "left field" acts.
Alec: I've never made a record, but I can only assume it's a tedious process. When you add in five people, I can only imagine how time consuming it can be. With "Squat," I get the sense that everyone involved was having a great time. There are certain studio sessions where I'd like to have been a fly on the wall; this is one of them.
"Words From The Chief Rocker" (featuring Busy Bee Starski)
Alec: If you want a good Busy Bee story, check out the time he and Roxanne Shanté battled.
Stereo: Busy Bee! "Once upon a time in the place to be, they was standing in line to see the Busy Bee..." De La always shows love to the early legends and I wish more artists followed suit. He's totally in his element and it fits the album.
Stereo: We celebrated rappers who are underrated producers and De La Soul deserves more mention in this category. The way they used Marvin Gaye's timeless "Dance With Me" is dope as hell. Also: De La has more seductive songs than people realize.
Alec: The great part of revisiting classic albums is you admittedly hear songs you haven't heard in a while — especially since De La's catalogue isn't on streaming because of their situation with Tommy Boy. Man....this song brings back so many good memories.
Alec: Supa Dave West on the beat. I know people like Prince Paul will always get top-billing, but SDW — in my humble opinion — has always been a secret ingredient to the group's longevity and success.
Stereo: The hook is so stupid catchy. This is lowkey one of De La's "hookiest" albums; and I love Dave's verse on this: "So I sip until my bladder bust/You in V.I.P., so why you mad at us?/Boxed in, I'm in the world fox-trottin'/Gettin' my Fred Astaire on, follow my lead girl!" And also: Supa Dave West!
Stereo: It's so chill. They really let the vibe seep through the spaces on this track. This is another one of those songs that feels like it could only come from De La. Understated perfection.
Alec: This is another quintessential De La Soul song. I know the term "easy listening" makes people think of the music inside a dentist's office waiting room. But what I mean is, some De La music is just easy on the ears.
"The Art of Getting Jumped"
Stereo: Their sense of humor and gift for storytelling are both evident here and they're always what have made De La who they are. I love artists that can laugh at themselves. This is brilliant, honest and hilarious storytelling. "This is dedicated to them punk muthafuckas out in Germany..."
Alec: It's Eminem's self-deprecation with storytelling indicative of Tribe's "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo."
"U Don't Wanna B.D.S." (featuring Freddie Foxxx)
Alec: Is there a better shit-talker extraordinaire than Freddie Foxx?
Stereo: Nope. And is there another rapper that you would be more terrified to fight hand-to-hand? Nope.
Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump
Label: Tommy Boy Records/Warner Bros
Producer: De La Soul, Prince Paul, J. Dilla, Rockwilder, Mr. Khaliyl, Supa Dave West