February 16, 2018

De La Soul - Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump (August 8, 2000)

Four years after the release of their fourth full-length album, Stakes Is High, the rap trio De La Soul, made up of Posdnuos, Dave, and Maseo, announced an ambitious follow-up project to be distributed by their label, Tommy Boy Records. It was to be a trilogy entitled Art Official Intelligence, and all three discs were to be released separately, but within the span of a year. Both De La and Tommy Boy were all-in on the concept: the group talked it up in the press, while the label even made plans to distribute a box-set version of the first entry in the series, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, with two additional, empty slots for fans to collect every disc into.

I’m writing this intro in 2018, and to date, part three still hasn’t seen a release of any sort, De La Soul is no longer signed to Tommy Boy Records, and Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump is generally considered to be a low point in the group’s career. This doesn’t mean it’ll never happen, of course, but it’s been eighteen goddamn years: at this point I fully expect for Pos, Dave, and Maseo to turn in the finale to whatever label they’re currently signed to, stare into the heavens with smiles on their faces, and quietly pass away, their souls finally freed from serving their sentence on Earth.

Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump dropped four years after Stakes Is High, which is criminally underrated and holds the distinction of being the first De La Soul project that wasn’t produced by the group’s friend-slash-mentor Prince Paul. One assumes the group announced a trilogy of projects because they felt they had a lot to say about the then-current state of hip hop: Stakes Is High attacked the genre’s obsession with Italian mobsters and bling, so they weren’t afraid to take their peers to task, and in 2000, there was a lot of shit going on in hip hop that they may not have looked too kindly upon.

In an effort to drive record sales and boost their media profile, De La stacked Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump with a slew of guest stars, a lot of whom were from outside their Native Tongues inner circle, a first for them. Snagging the Beastie Boys (R.I.P. MCA)  to make cameos on your album will absolutely get eyes pointed in your direction: these days it would be enough to fuel thousands of thinkpieces on the Interweb, especially from folks who have no business writing one. Such as myself, since this review could be interpreted as such, Ah, fuck it.

Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump was released to heavy fanfare, but even though it debuted in the top ten in Billboard its opening week, it ultimately puttered out at approximately eighty thousand albums sold, and Tommy Boy pulled the plug on the promotion machine. De La Soul managed to drop the second volume in this series, AOI: Bionix (you’ll note they slightly altered the album’s title, almost as though even De La didn’t have much faith in completing the project at that point) a year and a half later, but soon took a break from hip hop (but not from recording, as they earned checks lending cameo verses to outside acts such as the Gorillaz) while trying to figure out what to do with their label situation, as De La Soul famously wasn’t thrilled with Tommy Boy during their tenure.

I can appreciate how “logging in” to Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump could lead one right into a scene already in progress, but was I the only person who was thinking, “Skip to the end, did we really need to hear every goddamn letter in the alphabet?” Yeah, probably, because I’m a dick.

Turns out the intro set up a very inconsequential portion of Supa Dave West’s beat for the first song, “I Can Do (Life)”, which is far more positive than the title may lead you to believe. The bouncier instrumental upgrades De La Soul’s sound to at least 2000, signaling a shift from the more somber-by-comparison boom-bap-lite of Stakes Is High. Pos and Dave each take one-and-a-half verses to acclimate the listener back into their world, each expressing how you are capable of doing whatever you want in this life through the filter of boasts-n-bullshit. This was more pleasant than I had remembered, but I still know why I skipped this track back in the day: it just kind of lies there, really.

De La Soul has built a lot of friendships within the industry throughout their career, a fact that has never been exhibited as much as it is on Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump. The guest list on here is bonkers, you have to admit. “My Writes” runs for five-and-a-half minutes, which is okay when you realize there are five rappers present on here, and everyone gets their time to shine on what is a very loose posse cut. The beat, credited to Ad Lib (which seems like a typo, hmmm…), sounds like a West Coast-tinted Stakes Is High throwback, which isn’t as great as that may read, but the rhymes are generous. Pos and Dave rightfully allow Xzibit and the primary rappers from Tha Alkaholiks to perform without a filter, leading to more aggressive lyrics then one may expect from a De La Soul project, but everyone still sounds cohesive. (Tash helpfully reminds the listener that Tha Liks once toured with De La and A Tribe Called Quest back in 1994, and as such, “we on the same vibe”. He isn’t wrong.)

The playful first single from the project, which I always thought was produced by Rockwilder for some reason: at least that could help explain the guest vocals from Reggie Noble (aside from the fact that Redman’s just friends with every-goddamn-body). But no, “Oooh” was handled by the group itself (and, if one puts their trust in Wikipedia, Prince Paul, but I’m not convinced), sampling Lalo Schifrin’s theme from Enter the Dragon and turning it into a delightful romp. I remember the music video running with a The Wizard of Oz theme, which sounds silly for a rap group, but if anyone were to pull that off, De La and Redman were prime candidates. Dave and Pos kick back-and-forth verses with the chemistry of seasoned vets, as Reggie occasionally interjects with the hook and a couple of bars. Still nice today.

Entirely disconnected from “Oooh” but deserving of its own entry in today’s post is the first in a series of three skits based around the concept of “ghost weed”, which ends up being a fucking brilliant way to incorporate surprise (and uncredited) guest verses onto your project. This first entry sneaks Pharoahe Monch into the proceedings, into the setup of a rap cypher where one of the participants smokes a strain of marijuana that “ghost-raps” his bars for him. Maybe this is what Wikipedia is talking about with its Prince Paul production credit for “Oooh”? This seems to be right in his wheelhouse. Anyway, these are among my favorite rap album skits, and Monch’s verse is also alright.

I was about to write, “Hey, De La Soul found D.V. Alias Khrist’s bloated corpse!”, but Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump was released in 2000, back when it wasn’t very difficult to locate the gentleman and hire him to sing an altered version of some lyrics from The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City”. “Thru Ya City” features one of the poppier Dilla donuts, but overall this track never did much for me, and it still doesn’t today. It’s kind of fucking boring when taken as a whole: I get that the song isn’t supposed to be about anything but props and posturing, but you’ll walk away craving to feel something more. And so it goes.

Ah, there’s that Rockwilder beat I was pretty sure I hadn’t been imagining. As with most of the man’s work, it’s the product of a one-, two-, or maybe three-trick pony that dried out the well he had been consistently revisiting, which is a long-winded way of saying it’s fucking awful. “I.C. Y’all” falters almost exclusively because of the instrumental: Plugs Won and Two both turn in decent verses, and guest star Bussa Bus one-ups Reggie Noble by providing the hook and his own verse, performing at his cameo king-level peak. A shame.

The group’s self-produced beat on “View” was simple, but bountiful: a drum beat coupled with the barest hints of melody can show you the world, shining, shimmering splendid. I dug it, anyway, as did Pos and Dave, who thrive in environments of their own design: their boasts-n-bullshit hit every target. An excellent hidden gem that you two may have been tempted to skip in the past because it appears on Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump after two not-so-great songs and features no fancy guests: my only complaint is how Pos’ final verse fades out prematurely in favor of an instrumental interlude. Groan. Why aren’t we allowed to have nice things?

This was one of the tracks on Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump that first caught my ear in 2000, and today, while I find the constant skipping during Maseo’s setups  a bit corny, it still works. Mr. Khaliyl’s instrumental is another simple concoction: a guitar loop paured with a drum, but it sets the mood (no pun intended) very well, and Pos and guest rapper Indeed both provide entertaining verses about microphone domination. It’s clear Maseo was having a good time on here, too. Enjoyable as hell.

“Set The Mood” leads into the second chapter in the “Ghost Weed” saga, featuring the late, great Phife Dawg spitting a verse for his Native Tongues brethren. In true Phife fashion, the bars are full of shit-talk, and the criticism leveled at the very end (regarding the sports team “Phife” name-drops in the cypher) is kind of fucking hysterical. R.I.P. Phife Dawg.

(Side note: is it too late for the Native Tongues to band together for a collaborative project? It would be a way for Q-Tip, Jarobi, and Alo Shaheed Muhammad to perform without officially using the Tribe name; it would give the likes of the Jungle Brothers, De La, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, and Monie Love a chance to work together again; there would be ample opportunity to bring in ancillary Tongues such as Yasiin Bey, The Beatnuts, Dilla (they could use his beats), Common, Busta Rhymes, and whoever else I’m forgetting; and everyone could come together to honor Phife on a track. There, I just sketched out the entire concept for you: I’ll take an executive producer credit, please.)

The third single from the project (I forgot to mention “Thru Ya City” was the second) features, of all people, Chaka fucking Khan, and De La Soul treat their guest with reverence, as hers is the first verse the listener hears. There’s very little mystery as to why Tommy Boy Records pushed “All Good?”: everything about this De La production screams, “Love me!” And, well, I don’t. The song is inoffensive in every possible way, and I wouldn’t mind it so much if it came on in the background of a TV show or in the coffee shop as I try to answer emails while taking sips of an iced mocha, but would I ever bang this in my ride or in my home? Hell fucking no: it’s just dull. Sorry, but it had to be said.

“Declaration” gets fairly meta when Pos uses this solo track to drop in a quick reference to “Ghost Weed”, an interesting choice that forces me to look at the world of Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump with my head askew. What does it all mean? Why is the sky blue? Why is Jadakiss as hard as it gets? Why is the industry designed to keep the artist in debt? The world may never know: Plug Won probably just found it amusing. The production is more straightforward boom bap-ish, with multiple sound bites stitched together as a hook, DJ Premier-style, and it sounds decent enough, but it disrupts the album’s flow. It’s a good thing it doesn’t stick around for very long, is what I’m saying.

The Beastie Boys have never shied away from the rest of the hip hop world: indeed, A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip famously guested on Ill Communication. So the pairing with two-thirds of the Beasties shouldn’t be a stretch, but you two may still feel it to be so, since not many rappers in the game invite them to come out and play for whatever reason. This song is only okay, though: De La’s beat is simplistic to the point of annoying, as though they had wanted to give their guests something resembling the Rick Rubin production on Licensed To Ill with a “modern” twist, but waited until the last minute to throw some shit together. Mike D and Ad Rock aren’t known to be lyrical miracles, so it makes sense that Plugs Won and Two rap circles around them, but they give what they can to their energetic performances, clearly enjoying this collaboration much more than our hosts. Sigh.

An interlude that directly comments on the previous track while trying to keep the party going. It’s a nice enough respite, but am I the only person that thinks this could have been both fascinating and hilarious as another “Ghost Weed” skit where someone smokes himself into sounding like Busy Bee?

De La Soul have never shied away from songs for the ladies, but rarely do they sound as over it as they do on “With Me”. I remember hating this shit back in 2000. The years passing have calmed me down a bit, but this was still a no go.

This final entry pushes an alternate narrative: what about the women? Ladies like rap, too! So this skit features an unknown female presence rapping like Black Thought from The Roots, who has long been one of the best artists in the game even before that famous ten-minute “freestyle” or the NBC checks. Tariq’s verse is short but sweet, and the skit ends with the standard disclaimers that come with what was essentially a three-part commercial.

The fuck did I just listen to?

De La Soul clearly didn’t care about audience retention after wrapping up the “Ghost Weed” storyline, right? My God, was “Foolin’” a waste of time.

Pos, Dave, and Maseo try to entice the listener with a far more upbeat instrumental than anything we’ve heard for a while on Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, but it isn’t the appropriate backing for tales about getting your ass kicked and/or kicking ass. Back when I was just listening to music for fun, I remember just skipping past all of this shit and not thinking twice: today, my critical mind wonders if De La Soul had just given the fuck up at this point. No amount of Maseo commentary at the end, where he explains why “The Art of Getting Jumped” made the final cut, fixes any of this.

The most surprising guest appearance of the evening comes alongside the most curious creative choice from our hosts: Pos and Dave let Maseo loose behind the microphone to collaborate with Bumpy Knuckles, whose hyper-aggressive tendencies would seem to act counter to participating on a De La Soul album, but here we are. Freddie Foxxx only provides the bookending threats, leaving the actual verses to Maseo, and to the group’s credit, they don’t water down their invited guest at all, his entire monologue coming off as far more explicitly violent than the trio’s last four albums combined. The song itself is meh, but Maseo seemed to have fun. The album then ends with a quick reminder that Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump was the first in a planned series.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The critics are correct: Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump is De La Soul’s worst album up to this point, and yet there are still some brilliant flashes of energy and light on here. The project is all over the place thematically: ostensibly, this would have made much more sense had the trio been able to complete the series on their own terms. The skits are brilliant, but the question is then raised: why weren’t any of those guys asked to make proper cameos on the album? And also, where were the female emcees? Instead, we get Chaka Khan, Busy Bee, and Bumpy Knuckles, three acts you probably wouldn’t want sitting next to one another at your dinner party. (Redman and Busta Rhymes would get along like family, however, and not just because they’ve worked together before.) Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump also happens to feature the least inspired production work of any De La Soul album to date: Stakes Is High proved that the group didn’t need a Prince Paul type to stir the sauce, but quality control is still necessary. It’s almost as though the group announced the trilogy, and then rushed to finish this album in a time crunch, as a good number of these tracks aren’t anywhere near the level that one expects from De La Soul.

BUY OR BURN? Burn this one, but give the songs below a try. You won’t find them on streaming platforms, but the Interweb is your friend.

BEST TRACKS: “View”; “Set The Mood”; “Oooh”; the “Ghost Weed” skits are also worth a listen


Catch up with the De La Soul catalog by clicking here.


  1. I honestly don’t know why I never returned to De La’s catalog. Keep in mind that I heard the first four albums and they’re all dope as fuck. Any reason why I should revisit these guys?

  2. fun fact: I bought this cd a few years back in a bargain bin and to this day Oooh! is the only song I've listened to off it

  3. Max, you're off your rocker as always. This album is a classic. 10 years later, you'll be reviewing "The Grind Date" and saying how it's the low point of De La's career. Glad to see you're back, and pumping out reviews again. Lazy ass mutha$&#!* LOL

  4. I agree with this review. I never really got into this album, but it had it's moments. Definitely De La's weakest album, imo. AOI:Bionix was much better.

  5. Never been a fan of their post 90's work and this album proves why.