TELEGRAPH COMPANY Stew's full-time band, Silver Lake icons the Negro Problem, is not breaking up just because he decided to do a solo album—the band's recent month-long residency at the Blue Cafe should prove that. But given that Stew is the primary force behind the Negro Problem, is a solo CD really necessary? Stew clearly thinks so. Like most solo discs, there's a serious ego factor involved—I have a big problem with the liner notes labeling Stew "the first reliable genius of our new millennium." It doesn't matter that the line was written by some other guy—the fact that it's there at all seems kinky. But apart from that, Guest Host is a pretty solid outing. To these ears, it sounds just like a Negro Problem CD (two-thirds of the band play on the thing, which may explain why). It's a little mellower than the standard poppy NP fare, but then they've never exactly been AC/DC. Stew has the chops to be a great songwriter—though he's on the road to Hollywood, he always winds up taking the inevitable oddball offramp to Los Feliz. Witness "Re-hab," in which he repeats the word "very" 11 times in the choruses (count 'em—I did). But quirks like that'll cement his rep as an unsung hero years down the line (will Stew be the Arthur Lee of 2015?) at a time when maybe—just maybe—a tune like Guest Host's "She's Really Daddy Feelgood" will be hailed as the greatest song to have ever emerged from the Silver Lake scene, topping anything Beck ever did. DE LA SOUL
ART OFFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: MOSAIC THUMP
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This past April, De La Soul's much lauded, one-of-a-kind masterpiece 3 Feet High and Rising finally went platinum—11 years after its release. They don't want to wait that long again. Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, the Long Island rappers' first album since 1996's Stakes Is High (and the first volume of a planned trilogy), finds the group still rallying for truth and righteousness but tempering that with more street toughness than usual, which feels strange —though they won't be changing their name to De La Hood any time soon, hearing them do don't-fuck-with-us battle raps is kinda like hearing your teacher cuss. But you gotta play to stay in the game these days, so lyrical wizards like Dave (old fans know him better as Trugoy the Dove) and Posdnous flow freely with the dis-dishing. Check this one from Posdnous on "I.C. Y'all" (which features hype-man Busta Rhymes): "You speak ghetto falsetto on the mic device/Trying to give me the third degree?/You just a third of me/ Couldn't be the shit if you was a turd in me." They stumble a little when trying to pick up the ladies on "With Me"—it's hard to tell whether Dave is being serious when he drops lines like, "I'm a woman expert/Understand how the ovaries and all that shit work" in the midst of an otherwise gentlemanly song. De La do most of their own production work here, and they've managed to throw out a fine, party groove-filled record that shines as brightly as the glossy gangsta stuff it's competing with for radio play and chart positions. While it may be hard for any De La fan to separate their current work from their groundbreaking past, if you can take Art Official Intelligence on its own terms, it's as good, positive and creative as hip-hop can get in the year 2-G. (Michael Coyle)