De La Soul’s new concept album, First Serve, follows a rap duo starting out in the late 90s, as they rise to stardom, flame out and then get back together again. At this point in their career, with a deep catalog of classic and quality releases, it seems like the right time for the legendary group to look backward. It also takes off the pressure of making a hit for today’s market–not that De La has ever been too concerned with commercial success.
Musically, First Serve, is much what you would expect from a De La album–spirited beats, clever rhymes and an off the wall, wink and a nod sense of humor. All the things that have allowed them to endure since their groundbreaking debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, in 1989. French DJ duo Chokolate and Khalid, who provide First Serve’s musical backdrops, are welcome partners on this go-round.
The chemistry between Posdnous and Dave (the group’s third member Maseo is absent from this release) is evident. These two (also known as Plug 1 and Plug 2) have worked together for so long, it seems as easy as breathing for them to trade the mic back and forth, as they do on stand-out tracks like “Pushin’ Aside, Pushin’ Along” and “Clash Symphony,” which finds their fictional characters at odds, but musically the two emcees kill the track together.
What almost ruins “Clash Symphony” and really the whole album, is the “comic” skit littered behind this and other songs, as the overbearing mother of one of the group’s members screams in the background.
This mother character, who chastises them at the beginning of the album for pursuing rap rather than a traditional job, is obviously being voiced by a man, probably Pos or Dave, and is so embarrassingly unfunny it makes you cringe.
Part of this wackiness is to be expected from De La, but it’s so brutal it makes your skin crawl, impeding your enjoyment of the rest of the album.
It’s a shame because it takes some of the air out of yet another very credible, consistent De La Soul album and defeats the believability of a fairly compelling hip-hop concept album.
When the fictional group in First Serve reunites on “Tennis” and “The Top Chefs” it sounds as if they’ve never been apart. The same can be said for the real life artists.
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