Stakes Is High is often overshadowed by its predecessors in the De La Soul discography and, upon its release, it was lost in a summer of great import and consequence. Released on the same day as Nas' alter-ego epic It Was Written and sandwiched between albums like Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt and OutKast's ATLiens, it's very possible that Stakes Is High didn't get its rightful burn in respective tape decks and CD players. Aside from that, hip-hop was fully embroiled in the East Coast vs. West Coast beef, something in which the Native Tongues vanguards were seeming nonplayers. But it's under these conditions that De La offered an album that was not only sonically excellent and creative and pure, but an album with the year's most relevant and prescient message. The stakes were indeed high. Inter-genre violence was bubbling beneath the surface, overshadowing the turn hip-hop was taking -- a turn away from what was a mid-'90s renaissance of the late-'80s golden age excellence, quickly evolving into what is now known as the jiggy era. On "The Bizness" -- a song featuring the quickly maturing Common before his lyrical touchstone One Day It'll All Makes Sense -- Dave spits "Do not connect us with those champagne-sippin' money-fakers." Hip-hop was at a crossroads, a precipice -- whatever you'd like to call it -- and De La were concerned. "Supa Emcees" asked "Whatever happened to the MC?" and cautioned "MCing ain't for you!" "Dog Eat Dog" asserted that folks were "fucking my love in all the wrong places" -- an obvious metaphor. "Baby Baby Baby Baby Ooh Baby" is a sharp satire of the Bad Boy-style hip-hop that was beginning its reign, fit with a beat as Hitmen-esque as an '80s R&B revision with Posdnuos rhyming in a conspicuously Biggie-like cadence. No, this was not an unabashed hip-hop classic like 3 Feet High and Rising and De La Soul Is Dead, or as provocative and fresh as some of its 1996 peers. It was, however, an entertaining and unapologetic De La album that placed hip-hop in front of a mirror. It's also an album that did its part to solve what De La were articulating as a problem, ushering in what would become the newer version of the Native Tongues, with multi-production from a young Jay Dee, Mos Def's introduction to most listeners, the aforementioned Common cameo, and hooks from Erykah Badu and Zhané, artists leading the burgeoning neo-soul movement of the time. It was as if De La were providing an antidote. Stakes Is High is an important album of this era, an album of great production and the most skilled of MCs who diagnosed symptoms of what they believed were hip-hop health complications -- but it offered the medicine.
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AllMusic Review by Vincent Thomas