Pion-Ear: De La Soul’s “And the Anonymous Nobody”


art by Erica Miget

Zachary Clingenpeel, photographer

Nobody could have predicted the return of the legendary hip hop group that made hits like “Ring Ring Ring” and “Me, Myself and I.” De La Soul, a group that revolutionized the world of rap in the 1990s alongside names such as Queen Latifah and A Tribe Called Quest, are back in the game after an almost-12-year hiatus with their newest album And the Anonymous Nobody. While it’s not the most popular rap album released this year, considering the release of Views by Drake and The Life of Pablo by Kanye West, And the Anonymous Nobody is certainly a notable album demonstrating the skill of De La Soul after 12 years without releasing an album.

Since their last album, The Grind Date, released in 2004, De La Soul has been featured on several other artists’ songs, most notably “Feel Good Inc.” by Gorillaz. They have even started a side project under the alias First Serve, but not since The Grind Date have they released a full-length album featuring all their members. The album was initially announced on Kickstarter in 2015 and was released April 16, 2016. It features popular artists such as 2 Chainz and Usher, no doubt due to the esteem given to De La Soul within the hip hop community.

De La Soul seems to have taken the hint that 2016 is the year of comebacks in the world of hip hop with the release of Snoop Dogg’s COOLAID and KRS-One’s King of the ‘Ol Skool. But despite this pattern of older artists resurfacing for a taste of the new age fame, De La Soul sets themselves apart by avoiding the cliches of money and sex epitomized by today’s rap scene and sticking to their hip hop roots which is characterized by its social consciousness and its positive message.

The quality of the album is overwhelmingly satisfying considering the time it’s been since the band’s last release. The members of De La Soul, Posdnous, Dave and Maseo, haven’t missed a beat and have managed to make an album that is both contemplative and high quality. The album is hard-hitting with recurring themes, such as the decline of fame and struggle with identity.

However, And the Anonymous Nobody is indistinguishable from De La Soul’s music released in the late 90s. The group’s style has evolved little over the years. They still preach the same positive, quirky lyrics over soulful, jazz rap beats and, while it’s a breath of fresh air from the tired boasts of wealth and affluence by more modern rappers, the impact of some themes on the album is diminished by the lack of growth on De La Soul’s part.

One of the most powerful songs on the album is “Greyhounds” which describes a girl who moves to New York to start a new life only to face the atrocities of living in the big city. The group uses such imagery as “just wants a new zip code for an old dream” to demonstrate the dichotomy of urban life.

Despite De La Soul’s attempts to stay as aware of their messages as possible on the album, it is not free from the antics of modern hip hop. The song “CBGBS” is nothing more than nonsensical lyrics such as “You’re a peanut with a cashew.”

Another example of the group’s hijinks is the skit “You Go Dave” that appears near the end of the album. The skit is a satirical commercial for the album in which a man named Dave discusses how And the Anonymous Nobody saved him from the “garbage” of new releases by providing “comprehensive substance.” While this skit provides some much needed comic relief on the album, it detracts from the power of the content in some of the other tracks and comes off as pretentious.

While it didn’t quite live up to expectations, And the Anonymous Nobody is still a fantastic album. De La Soul has definitely reminded the world of their stance as pioneers of the hip hop industry, even if they haven’t changed much over the years. I hope to hear new music by them in the future and I recommend And the Anonymous Nobody to anyone who is looking for newer music that sticks to its old school roots.