Chris Daly is the foremost expert on dad rap.
For three guys who had the second most successful Kickstarter campaign of all time to fund their latest album, De La Soul do not sound particularly happy on the resulting And The Anonymous Nobody. Don’t misunderstand me, this is a return to form for the Plugs (the less said about 1st Serve, probably the better), arguably their best since The Grind Date, but it’s not what I’d call an uplifting experience. I hesitate to go so far as to label this Old Man Rap, if for no other reason that I’ve been a fan since seeing them tour 3 Feet High back in 1990 )and what would that make me?), but it’s sounding more and more like Dave, Pos, and Mase would appreciate it if you’d get the fuck off the potholes in their lawns.
Referring to themselves as “old farts” and referencing Nell Carter from Gimme A Break won’t do much to pull in young listeners, either. Imagine, if you will, an entire album of “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa” level shit, and you’ve got a pretty decent overview of this one. Sure, the tracks are cool, but do NOT listen to this one if you’re alone on any major holidays, recently were dumped by your label, or found out that your halitosis is why more people won’t talk to you. It might push you over the edge.
Opener “Genesis” is a spoken word intro by Jill Scott giving her best advice, but the message is perplexing at best. She explains to the listener that it’s only when you love someone at their lowest point do you prove your love. The point would seem to be that De La has been through the ringer recently, but see my earlier note about the second most successful Kickstarter of all time. Plus, one easily could argue DLS stand alone as the “greatest” rap act of all times, based on both longevity and Wu-Tang’s precipitous fall off of late, but what do I know?
From there, we go into “Royalty Capes,” which we’ve already discussed when it was dropped as a single, before we spin into “Pain,” a song that’s about becoming stronger through adversity. While a somewhat upbeat message, I suppose, it comes across more pessimistic than you might think. Continuing the guest star game, Snoop Dog drops what could be the “happiest” verse on the entire album on this one, or, at least, the only verse where the spitter actually sounds like he’s having fun.
Continuing the melancholy streak, other tracks include “”Memory Of…” about lost loves, “Greyhounds,” about coming to the big city to make it big only to be chewed up and spit out, and “Trainwreck,” a less than laudatory tale about a Stella who thinks too highly of herself. This tone of pessimism runs rampant throughout.
While there’s little to make one break out in smiles, there are definitely enough bangers to keep the heads nodding. “Property of Spitkicker.com” is one of two stand-out tracks here that deserve their place among DLS’ finest. Over a Spartan beat, the guys employ a robotic vocal reverb to excellent effect, and Roc Marciano’s verse strikes like a panther. The mood is no cheerier, but everyone here simply kills it. “Drawn,” featuring Little Dragon, is another stellar track, but it feels more like a LD track than it does De La’s.
This, unfortunately, is the only recurring problem with ATAN. While all the crowd-funded dollars allows for a number of guest stars (in addition to the aforementioned above, you’ve also got 2Chainz, Usher, Damon Albarn, and a host of others), De La often sound like they’re the guests, not the other way around. “Snoopies” with David Byrne is a prime example. Perhaps its DB’s distinctive sound, but this track would seem more at home on one of his solo albums than theirs.
I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a moment on “Lord Intended,” now one of the oddest tracks in De La’s entire catalogue. What begins as a hard-as-fuck groove with snarling guitars and throbbing snares turns on a dime into a Dio/Queen hybrid arena rock number with Justin Hawkins telling us to “fuck everyone, burn everything.” It’s probably the most WTF moment on the album, but “Unfold,” the Kickstarter-only extra that works as DLS’ take on the Beastie’s “Paul Revere,” using a pretty shaky Johnny Cash impression to hold the thing together, comes in a close second.
It’s not until the 15th track that we get our first De La skit, which by this stage in their careers, seems like a necessity. If nothing else, the ploy has worked on all their other albums to tie loose ends together and, quite frankly, lighten the mood.
Fans will not be disappointed with And the Anonymous Nobody. Dave and Pos remain in stellar form, and the money was well spent on the live musicians (though this should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with “Fallin’,” one of the few truly successful marriages of rap and rock to date). A couple of tracks are among their finest to date, and there’s virtually no filler here. It’s just a shame that Plugs One, Two and Three don’t seem happier with their own success. After all, three will always be the magic number.