De La Soul AOI: Bionix

Part two of De La Soul's Art Official Intelligence trilogy claims to be "better, stronger and faster." If this claim is in reference to Mosaic Thump, the first instalment, it definitely is. Although Mosaic Thump admittedly had some great moments, the impressive yet long guest list on the album ultimately disrupted the flow. This time around, however, Goodie Mob's Cee-Lo and Cypress Hill's B-Real are tailor-made for their roles. Bionix is simply a tighter record, and even cuts back on the skits, a De La trademark. Maseo has a bigger role in the beefy production, which is anchored by tough drum kicks, and many of the tracks have the potential for a wide appeal while retaining a link to their core fan base. A case in point is "Simply," which in sampling Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" has obvious pop appeal. Yet Posdnous and Dave (Trugoy) balance things out as their rhyme style pays tribute to the underrated Nice & Smooth, and they kick the party into high gear when they tack a revival of A Tribe Called Quest's 1990 track "Footprints." Like their last album, De La are in a loose mood and accordingly, Pos and Dave's rhymes are fluid yet thoughtful, as they've always sparked the intellect more than the average MC. Continuing to distance themselves from the conceptual focus that shaped their first three albums, De La move on and show the many hip-hop artists who have failed in the past how to maintain relevance and age gracefully. (Tommy Boy)