De La Soul packed a wallop on their 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, without the blustery machismo usually associated with hip hop. Their psychedelic edge and hippie-go-lucky vibe revolutionized the genre and laid the musical foundation for such left-of-center rap successes as Arrested Development and the Fugees. But this New York City-area threesome was asking for trouble when it named its sophomore effort De La Soul Is Dead: The album was a commercial disappointment, as was its 1993 followup, Buhloone Mindstate.
Though the stakes are higher than ever, De La Soul's latest album is business as usual. They follow Busta Rhymes' lead by inviting the R&B duo Zhane to harmonize on "4 More," and their easy-rollin' rhythms, especially on the standout "Itzsoweezee (HOT)," sound an awful lot like those of such younger guns as A Tribe Called Quest. When Stakes Is High finally springs a surprise, with a sample of Mickey Gilley's 1975 country hit "Window Up Above," it turns into a predictable bit that bashes rednecks with one-track taste in music. Clever, huh? (Tommy Boy)