John Legend, De La Soul | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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Square, understated, and workmanlike, 2004's The Grind Date (Sanctuary) is yet another reminder that DE LA SOUL didn't become the most consistent recording act in hip-hop history by taking chances. Nope, they established a streak of creative longevity unprecedented in the rap game--seven studio albums since 1989 without a misstep--by laying claim to an idiosyncratic groove and riding it out just like old-time R & B pros. Titling their 1991 album De La Soul Is Dead now seems like a brilliant career move: by preemptively declaring that they'd fallen off, they freed themselves from a lifetime of unsuccessful attempts to out-weird the visionary Day-Glo poetics of their debut, 3 Feet High and Rising. The sonic punch lines on The Grind Date are rarer than on the two "Art Official Intelligence" albums, but thankfully their taste in white folks hasn't gotten any cooler--they sample Rick Wakeman and Yes here, on two separate tracks. Their everyman personas and trademark sound--blocky yet quirky, with faint shimmers of 70s lite-funk--are now so established that the guests on the album don't mess with them; the contributions from hot-shit producers Madlib and Ninth Wonder blend in seamlessly, and even loopy MCs like Ghostface and MF Doom flow like regular dudes. As always, De La Soul's rhymes qualify the language other rappers carelessly toss around ("Not that we not hungry / Just picky in what we eat") while celebrating unflashy perseverance--theirs included. --Keith Harris

On his breakthrough album, Get Lifted (Columbia), soul singer and Kanye West protege JOHN LEGEND (born John Stephens) doesn't worry too much about sending mixed messages. He practically defends infidelity on "She Don't Have to Know" and "Number One," where he sings "You can't say I don't love you / Just because I cheat on you" and asks for nice-guy points because he makes sure the answering machine is free of messages from the women he's stepping out with. On the very next tune he's pledging "I Can Change," with some rapped cheerleading from no less a paragon of virtue than Snoop Dogg. But Legend's so good a singer that he's convincing as both a penitent and a lech; his self-assured, slightly raspy voice transports Stevie Wonder's melodicism and Donny Hathaway's spontaneous brio into the hip-hop era. --Peter Margasak

John Legend headlines, Common plays fourth, De La Soul plays third, Rahzel plays second, and DJ JS-1 opens. Mon 8/1, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $25, 18+.

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