On their notorious second album, De La Soul went to great lengths to debunk the daisy-age hippie image they'd been pigeonholed with, titling the record De La Soul Is Dead and putting a picture of wilting daisies in a broken flowerpot on the cover. Critics and fans alike were puzzled as to why the group was seemingly rejecting what had been hailed as the future of hip-hop, and neither the reviews nor the charts were kind to the album. It isn't that De La try to remake their sound here -- Dead keeps the skit-heavy structure of the debut, and the surreal tone and inventive sampling techniques are still very much in evidence. But, despite a few lighthearted moments ("Bitties in the BK Lounge," the disco-flavored "A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays'"), a distinct note of bitterness has crept into De La's once-sunny outlook. On the one hand, they're willing to take on more serious subject matter; two of the album's most powerful moments are the unsettling incest tale "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa" and Posdnuos' drug-addiction chronicle "My Brother's a Basehead," both true-life occurrences. Yet other tracks betray a brittle, insular state of mind; one running skit features a group of street thugs who ultimately throw the album in the trash for not having enough pimps, guns, or curse words. There are vicious parodies of hip-house and hardcore rap, and the single "Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)" complains about being harassed into listening to lousy demo tapes. Plus, the negativity of the bizarre, half-sung "Johnny's Dead" and the hostile narrator on "Who Do U Worship?" seemingly comes out of nowhere. Dead is clearly the product of a group staggering under the weight of expectations, yet even if it's less cohesive and engaging, it's still often fascinating in spite of its flaws.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Huey