De La Soul have spent the past three decades trying to escape the shadow of their remarkable debut 3 Feet High And Rising — one of the foundational texts of hip-hop, alongside the Beastie Boys’s Licensed To Ill and NWA’s Straight Outta Compton.
This elusive goal has finally been achieved, with an album as much influenced by the Long Island crew’s participation in Damon Albarn’s genre-hopping Gorillaz project as by their own catalogue.
Collaborations are the life blood of and the Anonymous Nobody, with artists as far flung as David Byrne, Estelle, Little Dragon, and Snoop Dogg lending their vocals and their mojo.
The result is a beguiling hodgepodge that pivots from old-school rap (the Snoop hook-up ‘Pain’) to experimental pop (‘Lord Intended’, ‘Snoopies’, with David Byrne) via freewheeling soul and funk (‘Genesis’, with Jill Scott).
With a crowdfunding campaign covering production costs De La Soul have seized the opportunity to experiment without a record label gawping over their shoulder.
And while there are certainly moments of indulgence, such as the seven-plus-minute ‘Lord Intended’, the album also communicates a giddy sense of freedom.
Unencumbered by the demands of the mainstream music industry, De La Soul are chasing their muse, with delightfully unfettered results.
Moreover, this is one of those collections that stands for something larger than itself.
At a time when hip-hop is at a creative low-point (Kanye West a bad self-parody, Jay Z a bored businessman) here is an LP that points to the future. De La Soul have often been pigeonholed as a “retro” affair, nostalgia paddlers dining out on old glories.
On And the Anonymous Nobody they confirm that they are at their best when setting course for the future. It’s a journey you’ll want to follow all the way to the end.
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