September 2, 2014

Reader Review: De La Soul - AOI: Bionix (December 4, 2001)

(Today's Reader Review comes from Justa, who skips ahead in De La Soul's catalog to talk about their sixth full-length, AOI: Bionix, the second act in a three-part series that has yet to be completed, although rumor has it that De La might just finish this up sooner rather than later.  Anyway, leave your thoughts for Justa below.)

Growing up, I was never a big fan of De La Soul. The trio dressed like they were regulars on NBC’s A Different World, and their music didn’t fit the gangsta rap sound I was used to back then. And yet, as my time in high school reached an end and college was upon me, I began to dabble a little more outside of my bubble, and thanks to a guest feature on the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie-less sophomore album Bridging The Gap, I rushed out and brought De La's Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, the first installment of what was designed as a trilogy (one in which the third entry has yet to see the light of day).

However, this review isn't about that album. Today we're going to discuss De La Soul's follow-up, AOI: Bionix, which I purchased one year later.

This second installment in the series features less guests than the first entry. Supa Dave West handled the majority of the beats, which Posdnuos, Dave, and Maseo used for an overarching theme of becoming “Better, Stronger, Faster”. AOI: Bionix also marked the end of any new material that would be released on Tommy Boy Records, as the label folded soon after (which I'm sure the Plugs were thrilled about).

So thirteen years later (damn, I am getting old), it’s time to see how this project holds up. Let’s get into the review...

A computer-generated female voice telling us that this album is “better, stronger, faster”. Hmmm? I wonder where Kanye got the idea from? (Daft Punk, obviously, but this album was released a mere two months after Daft Punk dropped that track, so it's possible that De La had the idea first.) This is a rap album intro with no rapping involved, so I figure all two of you won’t care too much about this track anyway. Moving on...

This. Beat. Is. Ill! I remember the first time I heard this Supa Dave West production, my eyes were wide open and my jaw dropped. It still carries that feeling today, as the Plugs put on a lyrical clinic describing where they are in life now to the new school rappers (I would say a good portion of the newbies from 2001 aren’t doing to well these days. Lil Zane, anyone?). I now forgive the thirty-second intro track that prefaced this. Yes, the song is that good.

This was the single, which I wasn’t mad at by any means. These guys always somehow find a way to be ahead of the curve, both content- and concept-wise, with a tribute to women who don’t fit the mold of a “model” type that continues their streak. It also helps that Devin the Dude's hooks never disappoint, either. And yet I don’t think the same radio programmers that forced Chris Brown’s “Forever” onto the masses three or more times a day were comfortable giving “Baby Phat” the same treatment, so it never took off. It's still a good song nonetheless, and, of course, the Plugs are lyrically on point, as well.

Continuing the lighter sound of AOI: Bionix, “Simply” is a grown folks two-step jam that you would never hear in the clubs after 1996. I'm not saying it sounds dated, but that’s around the time that radio programmers created a singular format where songs like this would never see the light of day. So postmodern club goers who can’t dance and have no taste in music started only requesting things they knew from the radio, whatever was the “it” song of the moment. All that said, the Paul McCartney flip (of “Wonderful Christmastime”) is super fresh, and unlike on the first installment of this series, the party tracks don’t sound nearly as forced. The guys sound right home rapping about good times on a song that even Grandma could enjoy clapping along to.

A Tribe Called Quest's “Footprints” is sampled on here (it already being made up of a sample from Donald Byrd's “Think Twice”). As the “Simply Havin'” chant continues on, the Supa Dave West beat speeds up. Kind of a sequel to the previous track, and it continues to do everything well that its predecessor did, just with a higher BPM. Dope.

I remember reading an issue of The Source that previewed upcoming albums scheduled for the year 2000, and the Art Official Intelligence series was said to feature Al Green. This was probably going to be the song that he would have appeared on: it has that Memphis sound to it. But most likely because he's rumored to be quite the asshole to actually work with, the guys went with a pre-Gnarls Barkley and pre-solo career Cee-Lo Green on the hook instead, and saved a ton of money switching over to Geico. (Sorry, had to throw that joke in.) Cee-Lo doesn’t disappoint, as he provides a soulful hook with a backing gospel choir. Posdnuos (who also produced) goes solo on here and shares a bit of life advice, too. Seeing as I have written a ton about this song, you can tell I like it, so I'm going to move on.  (Side note: this post was locked in before Cee-Lo made headlines with his asinine opinions on rape on Twitter, which, seriously, those were some really fucking stupid tweets, does Cee-Lo not have a competent publicist?)

A skit involving a preacher named Reverend Do Good. It's funny to me, but I'm pretty sure Max would recommend you skip right past it.

Comes equipped with a hook performed in Spanish, which I can’t translate for you, but whether you are fluent or not, you can’t deny how much this track bangs. The guys are fierce on this with their raw rhymes, but instead of rocking one of those underground sounding Rawkus Records-type beats, they chose something more ahead of the curve with this one. I wish I could fill the rest of this paragraph with quotes from the song: my favorite would have to be Dave’s “Bill Bixby Green / TM money, got my pockets looking like I’m wearing Popeye jeans”. Yes, this song is fresh.

Another skit. I like this one a lot, actually. Pretty funny.

This is one I can’t fully co-sign. While Yummy Bingham did well on the hook of “Baby Phat” with Devin the Dude, when on her own her voice just bugs me. The beat isn’t all that impressive, either. The only good thing I can say is that the guys are on point, as always, and while “Special” isn't a completely wack song, it's definitely not something I would personally like to hear again. Unless I'm looking for a reason to press the 'skip' button.

Philly Black comes on the track with something for the ladies, but the guys start kicking some boastful rhymes instead? I don’t get the joke here: sometimes these guys are just a little to inside with their humor. The track is cool, though.

While the last R&B hook feature was not to my liking, this one I can live with. As Neo-Soul minor player Glenn Lewis (quick, which one of you two can name his gold-selling single?) gets his Stevie Wonder on, the guys kick some knowledge, which never gets old because they give it from a more humble point of view, versus a KRS-One/Nas “We are smarter than you” perspective. Both types are good: it's just that the latter is a little bit harder to take after a while.

Dave and Shell Council get “reaaaaaaaaaaaaallll nasty in here!” While “Pawn Star” is pretty good, it’s weird that it appears at all. It doesn’t fit the vibe of AOI: Bionix in any way. Whereas every other track is fun, or looks at things from a quasi-existential point of view, this song was dirty for the sake of being dirty.

Uncle Ricky pops in just in time to bring some fun back to the album. The beat is provided by Megahertz, who you might remember also did Diddy’s “Bad Boy For Life”, which led to the producer immediately disappearing from the rap scene soon afterward (which seems to be a consistent thing post-B.I.G at Bad Boy: does anyone else remember Da Band, Carl Thomas, Mario Winans, Cassie, Boyz In The Hood, or Loon?). De La really know how to choose their features well, as everyone sounds comfortable together, and the track moves along nicely.

Another skit.

I don’t remember liking this song that much when I first heard AOI: Bionix, but as my life progressed, and I found myself being pressured by weed-heads much more consistently, I began to enjoy it a lot more. Good comedy ensues throughout, as Cypress Hill member B-Real, the late J-Dilla, and Dave all make their best arguments to get Posdnuos to join in on the smoke session already in progress, while Pos gives a great defense as to why he shouldn't cave, all taking place over a Dilla beat.

The two guys who were speaking to the Reverend on the last skit (which most of you already skipped) leave his presence and begin smoking after church. Then the “Ghost Weed!” announcer from Art Official Intelligence: Mosiac Thump album comes through to announce “Headless Horseman Weed!” More hilarity ensues. If you like skits, that is.

This isn't an objective opinion: “Trying People” has become one of my all time favorite songs. When I first heard this song, I got chills, which I still feel to this day whenever it pops up. It’s one of those tracks that just connects with the listener on a different level than you would expect, as the guys share their insecurities, hopes, dreams, and failures. This song is, in my opinion, one of the best ever recorded.

FINAL THOUGHTS: As you can see I am obviously a huge stan for AOI: Bionix. It definitely ranks right below De La Soul's first two releases for me. The skits are actually funny, the beats are on point, and the guys have never sounded better rhyming to the beat. Though there are two tracks on here that keep AOI: Bionix from achieving perfection, the album holds up very well to this day.

BUY OR BURN? I recommend that everyone go and track this one down for purchase at some point in your life. (De La Soul famously gave it away for free this past Valentine's Day, so some of you two may have snatched it up not really realizing what it was, but if you've searched your hard drives and still can't find it, give De La some damn money, please.)

BEST TRACKS: Pretty much the entire album.


(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)


  1. Trying People is amazing, love Dave's verse.

    1. Yeah, no one comes from the SOUL like these two in music.

  2. Why did you do this one not the first? Always happy to see more De La though so good work

    1. Personally, I really young when 3 Feet High and Rising came out. To fully understand and articulate what that album did for the culture and for music itself I think would better be approached by someone who had a better awareness of what was fully going on at the time.

    2. I think he was talking about AOI: Mosiac Thump.

    3. Yes he was talking about AOI MT thanks CPM

  3. skip this go straight to grind date

    1. I'll see if Max will approve a Grind Date review, if he doesn't have it one in que already.

  4. Can someone write a review on that Iggy album?, I want a rap fans perspective on it. A real rap fan...reader review, anyone? Since max is being a bitch by not doing it.

  5. No disrespect though Lol

    1. If becoming a "real rap fan" entails of reviewing "that Iggy Album", you can definitely count me out of that party for good.

    2. @Just Why not you review it? Max reviewed some wack shit but do the Iggy one

  6. gangsta sweatSeptember 05, 2014

    i fucks wit tribe called quest

  7. Great to see more De La on the site, even if it's not by Max. Thanks!