De La Soul at Inside Nightclub (218 Richmond West), tonight (Thursday, December 18). $15. 416-591-0009. Rating: NNNNN
Given the shortened attention span of music listeners today, De La Soul's proposed three-album Art Official Intelligence series was seen as dangerously ambitious when they launched it with the storming AOI: Mosaic Thump (Tommy Boy) three years back. Although it sold exceptionally well - powered by the funky Redman-backed party joint Oooh - De La Soul's serious-toned post-9/11 follow-up, AOI: Bionix (Tommy Boy), just died.
While some point to the preachines of tracks like Peer Pressure and Pawn Star and the overall adult subject matter of the album as the reasons for the sharp drop-off in sales, it's more likely due to the lack of promotion from their Tommy Boy label, which folded in March 2002, about 10 weeks after the album dropped.
When Tommy Boy sold its assets wholesale to Warner, De La Soul went as part of the deal, only to be dropped, picked up briefly by Elektra and then dropped again.
That would've been enough to kill most bands, but not De La Soul, who've been together 16 years and aren't about to give up any time soon. But rather than try to come back with the third volume of the Art Official Intelligence trilogy - which is said to be more experimental than the first two - they've wisely decided to defer its release while they rebuild their momentum.
"First we're going to put out a straight De La Soul album with us just having fun doing creative things," explains Kelvin "Posdnuos" Mercer. "Then the third volume of the AOI series will follow, which will be more of a specialty album for people who really understand the essence of hiphop culture. Realistically speaking, that's not everyone.
"It's our tribute to the DJ, so it's mostly instrumental tracks with probably just two songs that have us rhyming on them."
According to Mercer, the forthcoming De La Soul album is near completion and the single tracks they've released in the interim on AOI Records - like the bangin' Jay Dee-produced Sean Paul collabo Shoomp and Much More, featuring Yummy - are a good indication of what to expect.
"At the time we did those songs we were working on the third AOI album, but they didn't fit with the concept. We threw 'em out on white labels because people kept asking us for stuff, but those tracks will be on the new album.
"We're trying to keep the collaborations to a minimum. There's one song with Ghostface and we'll be showcasing a new artist, but that's about it. Jay Dee is producing three tracks and maybe appearing on a chorus, too. It'll be a normal De La hiphop album."
Considering the current hiphop landscape, a typical De La Soul album will seem anything but normal. There aren't many artists making hiphop for people over 30.
"We never set out to make hiphop for adults. We just try to make music based on what we've seen and learned. When we started the group, I was 18 years old and my contributions came from an 18-year-old's perspective. But now I'm a 35-year-old father of three with a girlfriend, a mortgage and all the real-life situations that come with that.
"I'm a grown man, so I'm going to make grown-man music."