I Used to Love H.E.R.: Dan Mennella (The Mennella Line)

The 50th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from NY-based writer Dan Mennella, a friend, former co-worker and fellow music/baseball devotee (see his info below).

Dan surprised me with this one, providing a compelling argument to revisit an album with which I’d (probably unfairly) spent little time.

the grind dateDe La Soul, The Grind Date
(Sanctuary Records, 2004)

It’s funny, in a way, that this great record became one of my favorites and a very important one to me. Prior to The Grind Date, I didn’t like De La Soul all that much. I didn’t have anything against them, but I was 21 in 2004, and their best, early work had not aged well at all.

That’s not a criticism unique to De La, of course, merely an observation about the genre as a whole. If you were to look at the changes in hip-hop over a 13-year stretch from 1991 to 2004 in contrast to those from, say, 1998 to 2011, that idea becomes more apparent.

Anyway, The Grind Date is the record that brought De La into the 21st Century. The aesthetic was essentially the same, but they were now delivering it in a way that spoke to me and a new generation of fans, in particular those who, like me, were supporters of a very credible and thriving underground with acts like MF Doom, Murs, Madlib, Little Brother, the Def Jux crew and so on.

That whole movement may seem sort of dated now, but a lot of the guys on this record – producers J. Dilla, Madlib, 9th Wonder, Supa Dave West and Jake One, and MCs Doom and Ghostface – were at their creative heights in 2004. And that, combined with De La’s new-found focus and sense of craftsmanship, makes for a great record. It’s cohesive and lean, whereas the older records were too long and skit-heavy for my liking.

On a personal note, what really resonated with me was the record’s overarching themes: manhood, maturity, and self-reliance, to name a few. I was in the thick of a tough personal time in ’04, and, as I said earlier, I was 21, in college, and on the verge of entering the real world, i.e. adulthood. Pos and Mase rap from a place of peace and wisdom after having gone through the music-industry wringer, and I greatly admired their resolve. It showed me that people could go through a lot and still come out OK on the other side.

It was little nuggets like this from Church that helped me fight through helplessness and despair: “Instead of giving you a share or serving you a dish / I’ll lead you to the water, show you how to fish.”

I think De La always touched their fans in that way, but for the people to whom 3 Feet or Stakes Is High sounded too old, De La was able to reach them with The Grind Date. And if you look at this series, it’s a testament to their prowess as smart and talented artists that they have records from distinct eras featured here.

Dan Mennella is a NY-based writer and editor. His work has appeared on MLB.com, MLB Trade Rumors, the Long Island Press and RapReviews.com. Check out his blog, where he writes about sports, music, politics and literature, or follow him on Twitter.

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