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De La Soul

Our critics' picks in new releases

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Long Island-based hip-hop trio De La Soul has now spent 11 years redefining itself in the shadow of its own debut, 1989's 3 Feet High and Rising. If you're one of the few who've bought the three albums De la Soul's released, then you already have an idea of how intensely different the group's sound has become.

Like Stakes is High (De La's '96 album), Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump's main idea is chalking outlines around the music that cheaply claims itself as real hip-hop. But the new release is more assertive about it than its predecessor. "Oooh," the first single, features Redman in a muscular display of the trio's capabilities. "Copa (Cabanga)" and "All Good?" (with Chaka Khan) are silky party tracks that slowly develop an edge. And while "Squat!" with Beasties Mike D and Ad Roc feels like work done to please the 'heads, "Set the Mood," featuring Indeed, is so tightly constructed it couldn't have taken less than a decade to assemble.

Folks, this is one tough album, both musically and lyrically. On "Declaration," the disc's most elegant track, you'll find one of De La's trademark layered metaphors. This one compares the group to stitches that hold the sides of a cut--or a gash in the state of hip-hop--together. After a decade spent near the top of the list of under-appreciated groups in hip-hop, De La Soul seems bitter only about the condition of the genre. The "I sound like Phife" routine (it's him) at the end of "Set the Mood" and the "ghostwriter" gag running throughout are proof the trio remains fresh and fun-loving at heart.

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