Art Official Intelligence is simultaneously playful and serious, a treatise on the state of hip-hop from three guys who are serious about playtime. Gone, regrettably, is longtime producer Prince Paul, who levitated and contributed to the craziness of the grooves. The new-century De La Soul is a bit bulkier, even throwing down some hard rhymes (with at least one unfortunate "faggot" spouted by guest pest Freddie Foxxx). This isn't the De La Soul of 3 Feet High (1991's De La Soul Is Dead blew up that myth), but it isn't the group that made the scrawny Stakes Is High four years ago, either. Reportedly the first in a three-album series, Art Official Intelligence takes conventions (the club jam, the booty call, the shout out) and flips them sideways ("Oooh," featuring Redman, slinks along to a sly R&B beat that manages to sound nostalgic while still very much of the moment). Art Official Intelligence is part tribute to the underground in which these cellar dwellers reside and part acknowledgment of the mainstream they still so gleefully ignore.
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