De La Soul, AOI: Bionix (December 4, 2001)
Much of Bionix’s material responds to criticism that De La Soul’s last album, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, was a concession to the mainstream rap marketplace. “Unlike these underground MCs who rock for heads/We include the throat, chest, arms, and legs,” brags Posdnous on the title track. Metaphors abound: the “Rev. Do Good” series of skits lampoon their former image as hip-hop ascetics, “Peer Pressure” finds Posdnous and Dave smoking weed (cash?) under the tutelage of Cypress Hill’s B-Real. “See me on the cover of your XXL/Taking a holiday at the hotel,” Dave raps on “Simply,” which inexplicably uses Wings’ “Wonderful Christmas Time” as a musical backdrop. De La’s embrace of commercial values is admirable, but on Bionix there’s no cavalcade of guest stars to shield them from conventionality as Mosaic Thump almost did. At best, “Simply Havin’,” “Watch Out” and a handful of others find them crafting consciously middlebrow pop tunes. At worst, they hack out oafish sex romps like “Pawn Star,” unable (or unwilling) to admit how they have become pawns, rather than innovators, in the hip-pop game. Producers include Supa Dave West, Kev Brown, and J Dilla. Tommy Boy Records.