De La Soul has reached that point in their career, where they d rather not be broke, and have a whole lot of respect. As their last album hinted, the members of De La Soul are tired of being heroes for the underground, when the underground doesn’t put food on their plate (that is, at least not steaks). Naturally, being underground (or perceived underground) artists over the past thirteen years hasn’t made them rich, or hasn’t made it so that they don t have to make a new record every other year. With mouths to feed, the stakes are higher than ever for this crew of thirtysomethings, and sure shot way for them to transcend hip-hop from a hobby into a career, means making records that are commercially accessible – a choice that they’d frowned upon during the first decade of their career.
Where as AOI 1: Mosaic Thump was a collage of seemingly innocent, collaborative party records – (a change from its predecessor, the hip-hop state-of-emergency album, Stakes Is High) De La’s second installment in the AOI trilogy, takes them for yet another turn. Bionix is a series of more mature songs, written by and for aging B-Boys and their wives. Relaxed tracks for the ladies, yet with enough backpacker flair that it s still from the Soul.
The difference here is that, in the past, records like “Baby Phat” or “Simply” would have shown up on De La Soul albums, yet their sound wouldn t have been quite as silky smooth. Still, nothing can be taken away from these songs – the tribute to thick women, “Baby Phat” is a safer alternative to something like “Fatty Girl” any day, while “Simply” is a wonderfully vibey party jam, including an excellent Nice & Smooth homage, then extending into a perfectly timed flip on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Footprints”, in nostalgic Native Tongue fashion. But as the gospel-tinged “Held Down” (feat. Cee Lo) begins to tread the line a bit, things really start to take a strange turn on the trashy “Pawn Star”, the uninspiring Slick Rick collabo “What We Do For Love”, or the overly sappy crooning of both “Am I Worth You” and “Special”.
Between all of the questionable jams, the album isn t without its classic De La Soul joints. The Jay Dee produced “Peer Pressure” is very well executed, as B-Real plays the pusher in this “Guilty Conscious” style, back and forth narrative. Not to mention, the opener “Bionix”, the middle point “Watch Out”, and the closer “Trying People”, remind us of why we ve loved the group for so long. Unfortunately, these types of flawless victories used to cover De La Soul albums from front to back, making classic hip-hop records – and despite that this is a pretty decent album overall, their longtime fans may not accept the new Diet De La.
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