AOI: Bionix

Posdnuos, Dave and Maseo are so far AHEAD of the hip-hop herd that if their pioneering 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, were released today, it would revolutionize hip-hop all over again. They're so far ahead of the curve that no one — from the thugs to the backpack intelligentsia and everyone in between — can write them off, despite the fact that they peaked with their first album and haven't had a bona fide hit in years. They're so far ahead that they can spend their sixth LP, AOI: Bionix, hating the players, playing the game and gaming the haters, and still deliver one of 2001's best records.

On the hand-clapping, two-stepping title track, Posdnuos raps, "Unlike these underground MCs who rock for heads/We include the throat, chest, arms and legs." They also include the libido (on "Baby Phat," an electro-hopping dedication to thicky-thick girls), the ass (on the Wings-based party starter "Simply") and your self-esteem (on the Cee-Lo-anchored, gospel-gilded "Held Down"). They rock your conscience on the ethereal "Trying People," the most textured and mature piece of self-evaluation hip-hop has produced since, well, ever. "Am I just another lost in the pack?" asks Dave, before meditating on hip-hop's post-September 11th apathy, fatherhood and leaving a legacy: "The skies over your head ain't safe no more/And hip-hop ain't your home/And if it is, you're fuckin' up the crib, son."

De La Soul are just about the only hip-hop group worth listening to who are willing to view women as more than a single serving or a side dish. Where other MCs warn of gold diggers, Dave is opening a joint bank account with the lady who "gave [her] all when I just gave it up," on "Special." They even issue a disclaimer before the pimpological fantasy "Pawn Star."

After a dozen years in the game, De La Soul are still relevant, radical and entertaining. They still believe in a hip-hop Shangri-La, and with Bionix, the leaders of the pack bring us a step closer.

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