The magical collaboration between De La Soul and producer Prince Paul bore three classic hip-hop LPs, but since 1993’s Buhloone Mindstate, the trio’s work without Paul has felt merely accomplished. The Grind Date is stock De La; there’s little personality and no surprises here, from Flavor Flav’s rote shucking on “Come On Down” to Madlib’s Chingy-type beat for “Shopping Bags.” On the closing track, “Rock Co. Kane Flow,” Posdnuos raps, “We was told to hop for no one/S’what I dig ’bout Prince Paul/We stayed original ever since y’all.” But Paul is the one who’s still sounding original.
In his guise as Chest Rockwell, Paul returns with fellow Handsome Boy headmaster Dan the Automator to deliver bangers such as the Lord Finesse showcase “Rock and Roll (Could Never Hip-Hop Like This) Part 2” and softballs (Jack Johnson’s light-loafered “Breakdown”). The standout is “I’ve Been Thinking,” with Cat Power singing, “Slide slide slippity slide/Hip-hop, we won’t stop” as sultry as Sade. Meanwhile, the skits keep it realer than reality TV, as Tim Meadows threatens to win a dating-game girl away from rival players RZA and Jay-Z. The clincher: The great De La Paul reunion track “If It Wasn’t for You,” on White People, sounds better than anything on The Grind Date.