De La Soul, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump (2000)
“I’m gonna let you relax your mind and let your conscience be free,” says Posdnous on “Oooh,” the blazing first single from De La Soul’s Mosaic Thump, the first installment in the Art Official Intelligence trilogy. Ironically, Posdnous’ words aren’t just an echo of Parrish Smith’s famous line from “You Gots To Chill,” they represent the group’s entrance into hip-hop’s club era. “C’mon, bounce, bounce,” they whisper on “U Can Do (Life).” Gone are the understated loop tapestries of 1996’s Stakes Is High; here, the keyboards are programmed to make you groove, even as Posdnous and Dave continue to lace you with metaphor-laden lyrics. The “mosaic” refers to the cavalcade of guest stars who appear – Tash and J-Ro from the Alkaholiks, Xzibit, Redman, Busta Rhymes, Chaka Khan, Mike D and Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys, Freddie Foxx – turning Mosaic Thump into something of a variety show, De La style. The best cameo comes via an unlisted appearance by Pharoahe Monche, who rocks the “Ghost Weed Skit”: “I ridicule the pitiful/Piss upon the miniscule/Pharoahe Monche, better park that ass like municipal.” Is Mosaic Thump art or artifice? On the one hand, the concept – high-quality Black star power – often ties the album together better than the music itself, which varies from funky bass-drum romps (“My Writes”) to dreary keyboard hooks as thin as a Swizz Beats production (“Set the Mood”). The fact is it’s a little weird to hear the group adopting a clubby urban pose they once seemed ideologically opposed to, and their embrace of it on Mosaic Thump doesn’t always work. But there’s much to appreciate here, including “Oooh,” “All Good?” and Busy Bee’s triumphant return on “Words from the Chief Rocker.” Tommy Boy.