The first thing you have to do before you even get to the music on this album is work your way through the maze of aliases. First Serve is a project brought to you by Kelvin Mercer and David Jude Jolicoeur, two-thirds of rap legends De La Soul who normally operate as, respectively and variously, Posdnous/Plug One and Trugoy the Dove/Dave/Plug Two. Here, though, they are reborn as Jason 'Pop Life' Barrow and Dean Witter, two aspiring musicians: First Serve, the name of De La's alter-ego outfit, is also the title of the story that traces their adventures in the music industry.
What the point of the story is, though, is hard to discern. With their colourful attire and stoned, spacey demeanour, they seem to be satirising a pop/rap era that no longer exists. But then, that suits the songs (and skits, as no De La album would be complete without those), because they also hark back to a bygone age: the golden age of disco, soul and funk, and the brand of hip hop that sampled heavily from said sources.
The comic interludes will appeal if you went for De La's goofy sense of humour back in the day, but the meat of the album is provided by the old-school music, faithfully recreated by a pair of French DJs, Chokolate and Khalid (hence the non-appearance of De La's own DJ, Vincent 'Maseo' Mason). You can tell this is an opportunity they have been waiting for all their careers, just as it's easy to hear that they spent upwards of two years putting this album together, because First Serve is all about the joy of sublime musicianship. The songs have been painstakingly assembled to resemble classic dance tracks, by sessioneers in Paris. And the pleasure felt by the ensemble cast as they play these infectious melodies, massive hooks and stomping rhythms is palpable: you can picture them during Pushin' Aside, Pushin' Along, We Made It, Must B the Music, Move 'em In, Move 'em Out and the rest, lost in music, with giant smiles on their faces.
The concept itself may be somewhat flawed, and there's no denying that compared to the audacious new rap of Odd Future, Death Grips et al this stuff is almost antediluvian. But that will surely be a positive for those who long for the halcyon pre-Wu/Dre hip hop days of the late-80s and early-90s.