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Soul Fingers: De La Soul (above) performs with Wyclef Jean Tuesday at SJSU's Event Center.

How It Really Goes

De La Soul and Wyclef Jean put the posers of hip-hop to shame

By Jim Aquino

AS CHAKA KHAN sings about the current rap scene on De La Soul's latest disc, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, "It ain't all good/And that's the truth." The current bling-bling trend is bland-bland. And don't get me started on last August's Source Awards scuffles, which set the rap industry back a decade and just added more grist to the mill of those conservative (and sometimes liberal) pundits who shoot off at the mouth about what they inanely allege to be the hollowness of hip-hop culture.

That's why I say a prayer of thanks for acts like De La Soul and former Fugee Wyclef Jean, whose songs have cut down to size the glitz, dishonesty and empty lyrics of these materialistic, shallow performers who have tainted hip-hop--or as Spike Lee likes to call them in interviews for his well-meaning but overreaching diatribe Bamboozled, "the new minstrel shows."

The double-platinum-selling Wyclef, who recently released his second solo album, The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book, will headline a concert on Tuesday (Nov. 7) at San Jose State University's Event Center. De La will also perform to promote its fifth album, Mosaic Thump, the first volume in its proposed "Art Official Intelligence" trilogy.

It's amazing that the Long Island trio of Posdnuos (Kelvin Mercer), Dave, a.k.a. Trugoy (David Joliceour), and Maceo (Vincent Mason) are still together after 13 years in the here-today-gone-today rap business. De La's belief in making each album sound different from the last and its sharp criticisms of what it calls "shiny suit MCs" have never really helped the group in record sales (apparently, the old adage about satire closing on Saturday nights is true for hip-hop as well). But those reasons for the paltry sales are also why De La is one of the finest rap groups ever.

Mosaic Thump isn't a masterpiece like any of the albums De La recorded with producer Prince Paul. But a somewhat flawed De La Soul album is better than no Soul at all (I don't think I can stand another four-year wait between De La records), and Mosaic Thump is five times more impressive than much of the empty tripe that's out there.

Besides continuing to critique the mainstream, De La also skewers the much-ignored ghostwriting that goes on among top-selling rappers who brag about their so-called skills in a series of hilarious commercial parody skits. No other act can pull off skits like De La--not even Wyclef Jean, whose taste for hip-hop concept albums and skits must be inspired by De La, which invented both in their landmark 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising (which Tommy Boy will reissue in a special remastered edition later this year).

But despite the occasional lapses into unfunny skits (like the one about the Chinese restaurant owner on the Fugees' The Score) or uninspired, poppy samples (1997's Bee Gees-sampling "We Trying to Stay Alive"), the Haitian-born, world-beat-minded Wyclef is a remarkable producer. He keeps alive the protest-song thoughtfulness of his currently disbanded Fugees in songs like the impassioned "Diallo" (about the NYPD shooting of unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo) and has masterminded such interesting innovations as orchestral accompaniment for "Gone Till November" and songs recorded in the Creole dialect.

On The Ecleftic, Clef has come up with some of the most inspired comments on the current fetish for bling-bling. The ska/dancehall-flavored "It Doesn't Matter," which features wrestling star the Rock (!), sounds like a fiasco on paper, but it turns out to be a biting look at the fragility of wealth and how it doesn't matter in a world where your skin color does.

The wry, cautionary "Thug Angels" comes complete with the Southern bounce-style beat of a thug-life anthem ("So you wanna be a thug/You wanna push drugs/You want the cars in the videos/Let me tell you how it really goes"). Maybe there's hope for hip-hop after all when De La Soul and Wyclef are around to give "shiny suit MCs" the wake-up calls they deserve.

Wyclef Jean and De La Soul perform Tuesday (Nov. 7) at 8pm at the SJSU Event Center, Seventh and San Carlos streets, San Jose. Tickets are $27.50. (408.998.2277)

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From the November 2-8, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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