Artist: De La Soul
De La Soul, circa 2004
Album: The Grind Date
Label: AOI / Sanctuary Urban / BMG
Singles: “Shoomp,” “Much More,” “Rock Co.Kane Flow”
Synopsis: One of the most prolific and expressive outfits in hip-hop started the 2000’s ambitiously. Conceived as a three-part album series the “Art Official Intelligence” movement produced two records: Mosaic Thump (2000) and Bionix (2001). The LPs were fraught with commercial and creative turmoil. De La Soul persevered and decided to debunk their longtime label Tommy Boy Records to finalize the third installment in the AOI arc. The title of their album series also ended up becoming the name of De La Soul’s own indie label.
The Grind Date began as the third entry to AOI, but ended up becoming its own record apart from that trilogy―AOI remains unfinished. Despite that creative question mark De La Soul left hanging with the AOI project, The Grind Date became their strongest effort since their mid-90’s stretch. The Grind Date featured only the best production from the likes of J Dilla, MadLib, 9th Wonder, Supa Dave West and Jake One.
Perfectly pitched between acerbic rhymes (“Verbal Clap”) and their most tuneful music (“Much More”) De La Soul had found the bridge between musicality and contemporary acknowledgement. A decade has passed since The Grind Date’s appearance, but if this is De La Soul’s last album to date it’s a good way to wrap their legacy.
[Watch / Listen: “Shopping Bags (She Got From You)”]
Artist: Vanessa Carlton
Carlton, circa 2004
Singles: “White Houses”
Synopsis: Carlton had ridden the crest of the post-Lilith Fair singer-songwriter boom with her debut Be Not Nobody (2002). It was easy to assume that her follow-up Harmonium would meet a receptive audience. Unfortunately, Carlton did suffer a “sophomore slump” commercially with the album―creatively the record struck gold.
Richer in its musical presentation (think Kate Bush or Tori Amos), Carlton still maintained lyrical intimacy throughout the record. The jaunty opener “White Houses” recalled Carlton’s own teenage youth, but could mirror anyone’s own “coming of age” experience. Carlton also continued to peer into the notion of love’s complexities with the two highlights of the LP being “San Francisco” and “Afterglow”. A nice compromise between the approachable pop of her debut and her newfound cerebral explorations, Harmonium gained a cult following among Carlton fans. The record influenced her next two records, notably the superb Rabbits on the Run (2011).
[Watch / Listen: “White Houses”]
Artist: Gwen Stefani
Stefani, circa 2004
Album: Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
Singles: “What You Waiting For?,” “Rich Girl,” “Hollaback Girl,” “Cool,” “Luxurious,” “Crash”
Synopsis: It had been a long time coming, but No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani unleashed one of the defining pop records of the decade with her solo debut Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Drawing from a wealth of influences―musically and visually―that included Harajuku culture, 1980’s pop and hip-hop, Stefani’s album was full of hits and strong non-single material.
The production muscle allowed Stefani’s lyrical ideas to soar: Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Tony Kanal (bassist of No Doubt), Dr. Dre, Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, Andre 3000 (of OutKast). Whether waxing irreverent (“Rich Girl”), wacky (“Bubble Pop Electric”) or just creating something beautiful (“Cool”) Stefani was brilliant throughout the LP. It was the first single pulled from Love. Angel. Music. Baby. that hit hard―“What You Waiting For?” With a clever lyrical nod to the No Doubt b-side “Beauty Contest” (“Born to blossom, bloom to perish!”), Gwen’s awareness of her of solo flight risk was intriguing to hear.
One of the last great American pop records to emerge, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. proved that Stefani could be hip, smart and fashionable and that none of these concepts were mutually exclusive when it came to crafting pop music.
[Watch / Listen: “What You Waiting For?”]
[Editor’s Note: All three albums are readily in print digitally and physically. Please see the respective official websites for current information: De La Soul / Vanessa Carlton / Gwen Stefani-QH]