If you follow hip-hop culture long enough one thing you’ll notice is how easily rap collectives can dissolve. It’s natural, happens to the best; egos, money, fame, creative differences, it all factors in. Staying together in a circus like the music industry is an anomaly. To thrive, even more rare, which is what makes De La Soul so special. They’ve stayed together, built a legacy and showed other aspiring artists that you can be loyal and still succeed.
In early 2015 De La announced a Kickstarter to fund what would eventually be their 8th full-length album, and the Anonymous Nobody…. They met their goal that day, which was no fluke. For over a quarter-century De La has been cultivating a style that has influenced generations. They’ve gone from the D.A.I.S.Y. Age (3 Feet High and Rising) and Golden-Era (Stakes is High) to the future (AOI: Bionix) and beyond (The Grind Date). All while maintaining their distinct style.
Part of it has to do with their discipline as writers, they’re always innovating, pushing the rap narrative in different directions. Then there’s the production, keeping an open mind to the evolving sounds. But in the end there is no formula for what De La has done, that would be the antithesis of what they’re about. There’s only been an understanding of what’s worked, what hasn’t and finding a compromise. and the Anonymous Nobody… is a course in fluidity, exemplary of how they’ve stayed fresh for so long.
Just a cursory glance at the stats will say a lot. It’s their first album in 11 years, the guest list is as long as it is diverse (everyone from familiar faces like Pete Rock and Damon Albarn to newbies like 2 Chainz and Roc Marciano), and the title expresses a completely foreign concept in the rap world: anonymity.
To remain anonymous isn’t necessarily the crux, the opening cut “Genesis” featuring Jill Scott will tell you that. What De La is promoting is love, in all its forms. And that an expression of love isn’t exclusively reserved for when things are going well. They’re promoting the opposite in fact — that love is most vital when no one seems to care, when there is an absence of compassion.
The pop industry (and one can argue the world in general) is frighteningly indifferent; all the popular somebodies enjoy that emotionless sterility. That’s where the anonymous nobodies come in a.k.a. De La, to get us to turn around and see what we’ve given up because to be a nobody in a plastic kingdom is to be a somebody in a humane one: [LISTEN]
While love is the main idea, it’s important to understand that this isn’t a sappy, over-sentimental pity party. They examine love in all its complexity, the good and the bad. And that if you’re not mindful of what you’re passionate about you’ll end up as TLC once put it, chasing waterfalls.
The spirit of the album explores a range of ideas (often within the same song), and in order to do that De La had to make sure they found the right types of beats to rhyme over. A proper backdrop to set the mood. Getting the right sound meant understanding who they were working with, which is why they’re such great collaborators. For “Pain” featuring Snoop Dogg they embrace boogie, a sound in tune with “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’.” “Greyhounds” with Usher has butter slick R&B in its bones and “Snoopies” featuring David Byrne has Talking Heads written all over it. You can almost say that De La is multilingual in the way they speak to so many different styles.
“Drawn” has De La collaborating with Little Dragon from Gothenburg, Sweden. The soft, house dress melodies allows lead singer Yukimi Nagano to swim freely. She clears the way for Pos who has a quick microwave verse at the end. No fighting for space, only two master craftsman at work building off and appreciating one another. Pos comes correct and treats it like a confessional, but in the end still finds room for inspiration. Pure beauty: [LISTEN]
and the Anonymous Nobody… is the culmination of 11 years worth of experiences, the remarkable highs and the dismal lows. De La applied a familiar technique to their work, understanding that creativity is a fluid process and to hide away and remain fixed on one position would only mean death. It’s a project that can be absorbed in totality leaving a variety of feelings to ruminate over.
Love is without question the foundation, and De La has proven time and time again that promoting love whether it be through music or with people or within yourself is timeless, a move that has never let them down. It was a message desperately needed in 2016 and one that will hopefully come to define 2017. No stopping now.