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POP REVIEW : Mythology, Metaphysics of De La Soul

The DA.I.S.Y. Age did not dawn as scheduled on Monday.

That’s when De La Soul, the rap trio that’s as subversive in its gentle way as the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy are in their loud way, made its Southern California debut. Appearing as part of a four-act rap package at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim, the group didn’t come within a happy-face’s diameter of the wonders of its recent debut album.

“3 Feet High and Rising” might be the most significant rap album since the Beastie Boys drilled the sound into the heart of the mainstream audience a couple of years ago. It’s certainly more ambitious: Intellectual, cosmic, sweet and funny, the LP delivers a call for independence and individuality in a setting that expands rap’s sonic horizons.

To borrow an apt ‘60s phrase, the album is a total environment where often woozy, dislocated sounds draw you into De La Soul’s world of mythology and metaphysics. The group depicts itself as being teleported here from Mars, and it delights in arcane symbolism. The DA.I.S.Y. Age is one of their key catch-phrases, and they explain that word daisy is actuallyan acronym for “the inner sound. . . .” The LP’s first track “The Magic Number” sounds like a hip discourse on the mystery of the Trinity.

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It can get silly, but it never seems trivial, and for every gross-out riff about body odor or bad breath, there’s a dead-sober comment on social crises--infant drug addicts, destructive cycles of ghetto life. They balance lust with a true-love proposal in “Eye Know” (which employs an old Steely Dan refrain), and “Take It Off” is a call to shed the status-symbol regalia of fads and fashions.

The collages, jump-cuts, dialogue, recurring themes and mind-expanding impulses add up to something closer to ‘60s Mothers of Invention than ‘80s Run-D.M.C.

But when the group’s two front men, Posdnuos and Trugoy, asked the audience Monday what this group is all about, they received an indistinct roar in reply. That was the problem: You couldn’t really tell from the show.

Why didn’t it click? First of all, the mix was harsh and muffled, grounding De La Soul’s distinctive sound. Their music is more subtle, intimate, multilayered and intricate than the bold, hard-edged verse of Monday’s other two main acts, L.A.'s Rodney-O & Joe Cooley and New Yorker Big Daddy Kane. Those rappers’ declamatory verses are less innovative, but they’re much better suited to the concert format.

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Headliner Kane came off as an inherently uncharismatic old pro going through the motions, but he knows how to push the right buttons, and he got the crowd going with his black pride and anti-drug messages, and with the kinetic routines of his two flat-topped dancers.

Rodney-O and Cooley were sparked by the latter’s amazing solos at the turntables, many of them executed with flashy spins and behind-the-back moves.

As for De La Soul (which was also scheduled to headline the Palace on Tuesday), they stomped around like most any rap act, and though they backed up their message of nonconformity by dressing funny and looking more like grad students than street guys, they seemed tentative.

Their lack of stage savvy might be a case of inexperience, but it’s possible that De La Soul’s special music needs a different medium--a movie, perhaps, or a TV a sitcom. How about a “De La Soul’s Playhouse”?

Meantime, to borrow another bit of their lingo, De La Heaven can wait.


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