After releasing The Grind Date in 2004, the venerable hip hop pioneers De La Soul were quiet on the album front until 2016's And the Anonymous Nobody. They were pretty busy otherwise though, working with the Gorillaz, making mixtapes, touring, and attempting to release their back catalog for free, much to Warner Bros. dismay. Dave and Posdnuos even made an album together, 2012's De La Soul's Plug 1 & Plug 2 Presents... By 2015, the trio were ready to make another record, this time without record label politics or samples. After a successful Kickstarter campaign raised some funds, they gathered up a group of friends and musicians from their live band, then began recording beats and jams, almost 200 hours' worth. They then took the best bits, constructed a batch of songs, and started working on a guest list. Though Willie Nelson and Axl Rose turned them down, old pal Damon Albarn and an impressive array of people like Usher, Jill Scott, Snoop Dogg, 2Chainz, and David Byrne did sign on. Working with live musicians and guests inspired the group to take their sound to new places, along with their laid-back golden age rap style. "Lord Intended," which features vocals by Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins, swerves into hard-rocking, guitar soloing territory, the Damon Albarn feature "Here in After" is jangling indie rock, and "Unfold" dips into Wild West cowboy balladry. Whether these tracks work might depend on the listener's tolerance for rock-rap crossovers, but unlike most artists this late in their career, at least the band is trying new things. The best of the left-field collabos is the Afrofunk-sampling, David Byrne-sung "Snoopies," which sounds like a Talking Heads song and a classic De La song jammed together in slapdash fashion. Like most of the others though, it's still a bit too contrived to succeed. Where the album shines is when the band loses any experimental pretense and just drops some solid hip-hop. Tracks like "Pain" and "Trainwreck" are funky and loose, "Royalty Capes" is tough and tight, "Whoodeeni" is lots of fun, and "Memory Of..." is a sweet, nostalgic, and sad ballad with classic Pete Rock production and lovely vocals by Estelle. In a better world, it would be a radio hit. On these tracks, Dave and Pos drop memorable lines and nimbly thread their raps through the live instrumentation like the seasoned pros they are, sounding like they haven't aged much at all since Three Feet High, though their lyrical concerns are definitely more grown up at this point. Strip away the failed experiments and odd left turns (like the pointlessly aggressive "CBGB's" or the sappy pop-R&B ballad with Usher, "Greyhounds") and there's a really good hip hop album left at the core. If they had stuck with what they do best, it would have been one of their stronger albums. As it is, it's a bit of a confused mess that needs some serious editing.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra