With The Grind Date, veteran trio De La Soul, un-touted wonder of the rap world, tracks down that elusive spirit in the dark of today's party and bullshit hip-hop. "Church," one of the album's twelve triumphs, witnesses the Long Island cats offering -- over a characteristically sing-songy track from fellow marvel 9th Wonder -- old-fashioned testimony to a populace that's weak and laden from supporting false prophets and their stunt-centric lifestyles. In their seventh time around, the trio's soul has begotten, in name and spirit, concern with hip-hop's salvation.
The introduction to "Church" comes from Spike Lee, "a.k.a. Shelton Jackson Lee, a.k.a. loving husband of Tonya, Satchel and Jackson" -- a.k.a. brilliant director prone to fucking up his film's endings. He's one of an array of star-studded cameos on The Grind Date. Appropriately, Dave Jolicoeur, a.k.a. Plug 2 and formerly Trugoy the Dove, is a far more abstract poet these days than Native Tongue brethren Q-Tip, and the apparent film buff commences his verse with the unforgettable final line from Lee's inventive musical School Daze: "Wake Up." It is said that you must be born again to consort eternally with the divine, and that fact is not lost on this emcee.
Dave, "darkly packed" partner Posdnous and DJ Mase ponder the music, the message and the members of hip-hop's generations by entertaining this frightening possibility on the Carl Thomas-featured "It's Like That": "Imagine if we fuck around and lose hip-hop." Scary, huh? What's scarier to De La Soul: "Imagining to you (me, them) is a risk." So the trio selflessly bears the cross, assuming the risk the hip-hop hoi polloi eschews by imagining on the phenomenal "Much More." Poignant and piercing, the heat rock, a melodic miracle of chopped-up '70s hits by LTD and Shuggie Otis orchestrated by the D's own J-Dilla, christens the jaded eardrum, to paraphrase Pos. As the voice of hookstress Elizabeth "Yummy" Bingham proclaims, "Much more is what we got in store; just believe me."
Future abundance and potentiality are what the grind is about. The Grind Date, with its parable of the conspicuous consumer in "Shopping Bags (You Got From Her)" and Flava Flav's hyped history of hip-hop in "Come on Down." "The Future" attempts to lay an unobstructed path for 30-year-old hip-hop's uncertain legacy by pointing out stumbling blocks and foretelling the could-be success of its 21st-century disciples: "Suffer the little children to come unto me/ I believe the children are the future." Ghostface's and MF Doom's unexpected appearances on Supa Dave West's brilliant "He Comes" and Jake One's "Rock Co.Cane Flow," respectively, are wine in the habitually grape-juice-filled communion cup. De La even manages to recapture much of the magic of 1996's "The Biziness" by trading Job-esque narratives with ever-tricky lyricist Common on "Days of Our Lives."
Tomorrow is not promised, but if it comes, De La Soul will have helped to make it better with real talk and songs that cut to the heart of the human condition; not exhortations or condemnations, but confessions -- cosmic, revelatory, quotidian and intimate, as if the trio traveled straight from the mourner's bench to your dust-covered speakers.