DE LA SOUL AOI:Bionix (Tommy Boy)

Having heard little by De La Soul since their seminal debut “3 Feet High And Rising”, what immediately surprises most about this 2001 album is how deep and gruff their voices have become in the intervening dozen years. The next surprise is the disruption of the trio’s flow by juddering gaps, leading me to the swift realisation that I had inadvertently purchased the sanitised version of the album – presumably they swear more than they used to as well. Whether “AOI:Bionix” would be an even better work with added profanity is a point to ponder, although one track, “Pawn Star”, was presumably so tattered after its encounter with the censor’s scissors that it’s been omitted completely on this version.

Their message is still unerringly positive, though, coming out against gang violence on “Bionix” and drugs on the B-Real-assisted “Peer Pressure”. The pro-plus-size, anti-body fascism message of “Baby Phat” has its heart in the right place too, even if the medium might bear a little further refining. After spending their early years mired in copyright controversy they’re meticulous in crediting their samples, the delicious “Simply” finding hip-hop heaven in the unlikely folds of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”. They tail it with the Avalanches-esque smooth sailing of “Simply Havin”.

“Held Down” drapes a gorgeous undulating melody and Cee-Lo’s creamy Al Green-style vocals atop shuddering beats, and the sprinkling of skits starring gospel minister Reverend Do Good haven’t worn thin even after a half-dozen hearings. “AOI:Bionix” peaks in its final four minutes, though: despite its introductory answering machine message hype “Trying People” stands up proudly next to the best of De La Soul’s back catalogue, all angelic hosts, raucous kids’ choirs, humility and honesty. If you’ve wondered whether De La would ever again produce anything as worthy of the casual browser’s rap dollar as “3 Feet High And Rising”, “AOI:Bionix” deserves your time and attention. As the lady says, better, stronger, faster.