DE LA SOUL, the supa emcees from Long Island, have returned to remind folks what hip-hop was, is, and again shall be. It's been a long four years since the trio blessed the faithful with a strong joint to listen to, but their fifth album, Mosaic Thump, (the first installment of the Art Official Intelligence trilogy), makes up for the wait. As is typical of De La, Mosaic Thump differs from the group's four previous albums and offers the public delectable ear treats that are nothing like the popular doo-doo flooding the airwaves today. Posdnous, Trugoy the Dove, and Pasemaster Mase have never had any love for the rappers rocking radio rhymes, and continue to issue scathing critiques of hip-hop's current state.

And there is a lot for them to talk about. The lucrative dollars of the commercial audience have caused today's rap dudes to lose their way, straying far, far away from the foundation laid down by the music's forefathers. Not to say that there's anything wrong with making loot, but the integrity artists once held onto like a buoy in the sea is noticeably absent.

Nowadays, rappers jump on what they heard someone else say, spitting line after line of obscene nonsense centered on the accumulation of bling-bling, flashy cars, and tales of thuggery. Cats are quick to deliver some ol' Mary-had-a-little-lamb rhyme in that annoying halting flow everyone seems to favor. And, more often than not, the production these bums choose to support their cornball lyrics is usually a worn out Mannie Fresh/Swizz Beatz type of track, empty of any artistic value. Of course, the crews upholding these standards, No Limit, Ruff Ryders, Roc-A-Fella, and Dr. Dre's camp, receive mad love by the music writers grinding their jocks, hyping a fickle public (and themselves) into believing that shit is dope.

This is why it is so important that the Long Island trio steps back into the arena. De La Soul has always gone against the grain and Mosaic Thump is no exception. The first single and video, "OOOH" (featuring Redman), plays to the club scene without the bounce-bounce and video images of scantily clad women jiggling their wares, using, instead, a story line based loosely on The Wizard of Oz. In fact, the whole album is an upbeat, party-type piece, though in a blasé kind of way as the beats creep up on you. De La's proficiency in the art of sampling snaps necks, moves feet, and shakes asses on the dance floor.

Unlike De La's earlier efforts, Mosaic Thump features many guests lending their voices, and beats, to the cause. From Busta Rhymes to Chaka Khan, Mike D and Ad Rock of the Beastie Boys to Freddie Foxxx, De La Soul pulls them into the fold for a good time on wax. Yet, it's tracks like "Foolin'" and "U Don't Wanna B.D.S." that show De La Soul at their best, attacking the domes of wanna-be thug MCs with well-penned battle poems. Though album sales in the past haven't reflected De La Soul's worth to the rap game, Mosaic Thump leaves little doubt that the trio deserves a high position on the greatest-of-all-time list.