Despite And the Anonymous Nobody being their first album since 2004’s The Grind Date, De La Soul have been keeping themselves busy collaborating with Gorillaz, releasing side projects, touring all over the world and pissing off Warner Bros by making their back catalogue available for free online. There have also been rumours that the trio are once again working with former pioneering producer Prince Paul, who oversaw their first three albums and helped change the direction of hip hop forever.
Labels showed interest in a new album, but Posdnous, Dave and Maseo decided to go down the crowding route instead. Unsure at first, the response was amazing, surpassing their $110,000 goal in under half a day, eventually reaching $600,874 (Kickstarter’s second highest for a music-related project). In light of such overwhelming support, the album was named in honour of the 11,169 anonymous individuals who donated money towards their eighth studio release.
To avoid dealing with sampling lawyers they decided to create their own, working with 10-piece soul-funk band the Rhythm Roots Allstars and other session musicians to record around 200 hours of music, and essentially sampled themselves to construct the albums 17-tracks. And the Anonymous Nobody is quite a departure from the trio’s past work, clocking in at over an hour it features a diverse array of genres and guests including Snoop Dogg, former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, Usher, Estelle, Pete Rock, Little Dragon, Damon Albarn and Justin Hawkins of The Darkness.
Production-wise the album is virtually perfect, handled by De La Soul themselves with the assistance of Jordan Katz. Musically it’s their most ambitious yet, with freewheeling fun being the main aim, and for the most part it works. Of the straight hip hop numbers there’s the laid-back funk of “Pain” featuring an ever-reliable guest spot from Snoop Dogg, as well as the final track “Exodus” with its closing message about hoping to inspire people to “selflessly challenge and contribute”. “Memory of… (US)” featuring Estelle on the hook and production by Pete Rock also stands out among the R&B flavoured tracks, complete with gorgeous strings and light horns.
While of the more left-field appearances there’s the two-in-one “Snoopies” featuring David Byrne whose parts are completely separate from the rap verses of De La Soul. And considering their past work with Gorillaz, reflective indie rock track “Here in After” featuring Damon Albarn also holds up well towards the end. However, not all collaborations work as well as these. The prime example being the 7-minute theatrical hard-rock number with Justin Hawkins of The Darkness, complete with solo and a gospel choir singing: “Fuck everyone, fuck everything”. Thank God Axl Rose didn’t return their call.
But despite its flaws, you have to admire their ambition and willingness to challenge themselves. There aren’t many artists who would attempt an album as multi-genred as this at any point in their career. Now nearly 30 years since the release of their revolutionary 1989 debut 3 Feet High and Rising, De La Soul have created their best work since 1996’s Stakes Is High.
Top Tracks: Pain; Memory of… (US); Snoopies; Exodus
Released: 26th August 2016
Label: A.O.I. Records
Producer: De La Soul and Jordan Katz
Rating: Solid 7