Just heard: and the Anonymous Nobody by De La Soul

I came across an article recently where the hook was nostalgia's effect on the music industry. It featured several groups and De La Soul. Hip hop is as odd a duck as any musical genre. It got its start in the late 70s along with punk and metal, but didn’t really pick up a broader audience until the mid 1980s or so. Since I was bussed a little over 20 miles to school every morning, via Boston’s METCO program, I was blessed with seeing an entirely different audience discover music that I’d been aware of for several years. I remember one kid breathlessly asking me if I’d ever heard of “Rapper’s Delight” in 1984. The track was the Sugar Hill Gang’s biggest hit, released in 1979, but finally starting to see widespread release beyond “black” neighborhoods and radio. (I had a similar experience with George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.”) Regardless, hip hop has been around a while and there are precious few acts from hip hop’s nascent decade from 1980–1990 that are still recording and releasing albums to any acclaim. De La Soul is one of those groups even though it’s been nearly a decade since their last album. They’ve been releasing music in one form or another from the beginning. 

They’re known for both their quirky wordplay and their quirky sampling choices. In fact, it’s sampling that brings us this album. De La Soul have taken a revolutionary step forward in hip hop by hiring jam session musicians to go at it for a few hundred hours in order to build a royalty-free sampling library for the hip hop group. There have been plenty of acts who are as much a band as a rap group—The Roots comes to mind—but I can’t think of any who’ve done this. It’s sampling that makes it difficult to re-release rap albums with other labels.

With this album, De La Soul has freed themselves from relying on previously released artistry and, in so many ways, legitimized sampling. At the very least, they’ve established a new method of producing hip-hop music. And made a great album. It is, by turns, funky, discordant, and challenging.