In light of the recent kerfuffle between myself and other Mother Jones staffers on whether offensive hip-hop can be good hip-hop, I thought I’d extend an olive branch with some progressive, jazzy grooves from Baby Elephant. Made up of De La Soul producer Prince Paul, vocalist Don Newkirk, and Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell, their new album is understandably more in tune with classic funk than the current styles causing government entities (and supposedly liberal bloggers) to have fits. Lead single “Plainfield” features Digital Underground vocalist Shock G, but its mellow organ solo separates it from “Humpty Dance” by about a light year; track 6, “If You Don’t Wanna Dance,” with its wandering bass line and insistent chorus, could be straight out of the ’70s.
Anybody who remembers (or, say, still gets out and dances around the room to) De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising will remember the goofy skits between the songs; Prince Paul kind of invented this concept, we get even more elaborate mini-sketches here. What’s fun is that since iTunes gives you 30 second previews of songs, any track shorter than 30 seconds is, well, free; that means you can listen to most of the skits in their entirety without paying a dime, ladies and gentlemen! Check out how the “Funk Master,” on track 5, mistakes our heroes for cable repairmen!
The trio team up with David Byrne for “How Does My Brain Wave,” which sounds, understandably, like P-Funk meets Talking Heads, in the best possible sense. The album occasionally sinks into silliness: “Cool Runnins,” a kind of jokey reggae number, sounds a little like something from a Disney movie; and ballad “Crack Addicts in Love” is funny, but not really worth multiple listens. But the updated psychedelia of “Skippin Stonze,” with its filtered vocals and loping beat, has more in common with J Dilla than a comedy routine.