Just when the time seems ripe to capitalize on the fact that De La Soul fired the first shots in the alternative-hip-hop revolution, the Long Island, N.Y., trio opts to wax old school rather than return to the Daisy Age sound that inspired spiritual descendants like Fugees. The problem is that neither of De La's rappers packs enough muscle to carry off the street-hangin', self-aggrandizin' rhymes that trickle between the bass-heavy rhythms of songs like "Supa Emcees" and the auto tribute "Once Again."
The lack of provocative conceptualizing, like the proto-psychedelia of De La Soul's debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, or the biting satire of De La Soul Is Dead, could be overlooked if the album's melodic canvases weren't so barren. While the luscious, Curtis Mayfield-inspired "Sunshine" soars mightily, most of the 17 pieces on Stakes Is High crawl along lifelessly, trailing a wake of assembly-line beats that impart all the exhilaration of a suburban traffic jam.
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