De La Soul Is Dead

Rap, like time, waits for no one. With its game-show parodies, samples of white pop records, and mellow, frisky grooves, De La Soul’s near-platinum 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, was rightfully considered groundbreaking; it was closer to the counterculture audio satire of Firesign Theatre than the rap rage of Public Enemy. The trio repeats the formula on De La Soul Is Dead — ditties interspersed with skits and spoofs — but this time the results are closer to the sophomoric high jinks of Cheech and Chong. When the trio zings cultural icons like Tracy Chapman, Arsenio Hall, and M.C. Hammer, or mocks upscale black radio stations, the album shares the snotty irreverence of In Living Color. But overall, the playfulness of the group’s debut is harder to find here than an unsampled drum beat. Whether dissing a counter girl at a local fast-food joint, complaining about upstart rappers inundating them with demo tapes, or plugging their old singles, De La Soul comes off as smug and self-righteous. Unlike the first album, this one is full of songs that are tuneless or slight, and the trio’s attempts at such somber themes as abusing one’s mate (”Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa”) are hobbled by their mild-mannered rapping. De La Soul may not be dead, but on this album, their vital signs are shockingly low. C+

De La Soul Is Dead
  • Music