De La Soul were interrupted just before they could deliver the third volume in their "AOI" series -- projected to be a DJ album -- to Tommy Boy. (The label perhaps bailed out from a 15-year relationship precisely "because" the group was going to release such a commercially bankrupt title, one that was planned instead to appear on an independent label run by Maseo.) De La Soul quickly realized they couldn't go ahead with the plan after signing their AOI label to Sanctuary, so they wrote a new record, The Grind Date. Although it may see them settling into a holding pattern, at least the pattern of 2001's AOI: Bionix is one that any hip-hop fan won't mind hearing repeated. Better yet, it boasts productions from an excellent cast of figures -- partner in crime Supa Dave West, author of the best tracks on their "AOI" series, J-Dilla, who's stretching out his patented (read: overdone) sound to embrace classic hip-hop, an only slightly commercialized Madlib, and young phenom 9th Wonder. Madlib gets what must be the first lead single of his career, a bright, antimaterialist tale called "Shopping Bags (She Got From You)" that thumps like a club tune, but lurches as only the Beat Conductor could do it. "Verbal Clap" finds J-Dilla allowing some grit into his productions, and Supa Dave only continues floating the most fluidly catchy productions of any rap producer in action. Meanwhile, De La Soul voices Posdnuos and Dave balance their time breezing easy on bumping message tracks with a few old-school shots that show them a bit defensive about the passing of time. (Check out "Come On Down," a Madlib-produced shot with Flava Flav, or "Days of Our Lives" featuring Common.) Without a concept to tout, The Grind Date doesn't gel like AOI: Bionix, but it does show De La Soul keeping everything together more than 15 years after their debut. After all, you certainly wouldn't see MF Doom guesting on a Tone-Loc record.
Description provided by John Bush, Rovi