Eraserheads

Yet here is the obstacle. In the computer sciences to which De La's album title alludes, artificial intelligence, or A.I., is that quality by which we render machines "smart"—capable of autonomous decision-making that gets work done and takes the load off people. De La Soul argues the artists' common cry: that art, and intelligence, cannot be quantized, reduced to a formula, "formula" being the efficiency that, ultimately, every commercial process seeks, and from which hip-hop increasingly suffers. However, the puzzle wrapped in an enigma is that often, to get such a message understood by large numbers of people, one must express it in terms that calculatingly speak to the common denominator. In other words, one must come up with a formula. Hence, De La may have made their most formulaic album to date in order to speak against the formularization of hip-hop. What most comes through on AOIis the feeling of an album more muted than their sonically exuberant past—"Ring Ring Ring," "Pease Porridge"—would have predicted, more musically "r&b" than one might expect given their often pointed lyrics, which constitute a kind of hard center within the music's sweet, chewy coating. It's as if they're trying to fight commerciality by being "commercial"—a very curious, if not altogether unprecedented, dynamic indeed.

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