If De La Soul has learned anything in its 12 years in the music business, it's that nothing is certain. So when the Long Island, N.Y.-based trio (Dave, Posdnous, and Maseo) set out last year to craft

If De La Soul has learned anything in its 12 years in the music business, it's that nothing is certain. So when the Long Island, N.Y.-based trio (Dave, Posdnous, and Maseo) set out last year to craft its "Art Official Intelligence" (AOI) series on Tommy Boy Records -- with the intention of releasing three albums in the span of 18 months -- the threesome should have assumed it would be an arduous task.

Well, a year after releasing the series' first disc (subtitled "Mosaic Thump"), the trio is back with the second AOI installment, "AOI: Bionix," due Nov. 27.

"This time [around] it was just about who complements the songs," Maseo says. "The featured guests are credible to us and credible to the songs. But it's not like they're the platinum acts who are selling today or are in the public eye."

The guests on "AOI: Bionix: include Cuban singer Pariquo Fernandez, Dave West, Slick Rick, and Goodie Mob's Cee-Lo. Spotlighted on the first single, "Baby Phat," is West Coast crooner Devin the Dude, which Dave calls "an ode to the women who aren't always remembered."

"Rappers talk about partying and dancing," he says, "but when they do a video they always use skinny models with the long fingernails -- runway types. That's not real life."

Besides honoring the female form in all its many shapes, De La Soul remains true to form by offering up knowledge on tracks like "Trials."

"That [song] was produced by Pos' brother, Lucky, and it's classic De La to the fullest," says Dave. "The song lets people really see where De La is at on a personal level, and that's something we've never done before."

Posdnous adds, "[This album] also feels good because we didn't overpack it with a lot of skits or songs."

For Maseo, who played a more active role in the lyrical content of "Mosaic Thump," "Bionix" finds him concentrating more on production for both this album and the final "AOI" installment. "It's a natural De La progression," Maseo explains. "The third album is doing something that no group has done before, which is allowing its DJ to step up to the plate and put it down with all the elements that exist in hip-hop."

Tommy Boy GM of urban music Ian Steaman believes the crossover success of "Mosaic Thump" -- which debuted at No. 9 on The Billboard 200 -- will lead younger fans to "Bionix."

"The one thing we were successful in doing with 'Mosaic Thump' was introducing De La to youth-oriented audiences via its guest appearances," Steaman points out. "This album is more aggressive lyrically, more left-of-center. It's more forward-thinking and organically soulful."

To help spread the word, "Baby Phat" was serviced to college and mix-show formats last month. According to Steaman, the label will also be initiating extensive Internet promotions, including listening parties hosted by MusicMatch.

For the second year in a row, De La Soul is also supporting its release via its Spitkicker tour. Originally slated to be part of the larger dance-oriented Mekka outing, this year's tour will only feature the trio and house DJ Biz Markie. De La Soul is already planning a larger Spitkicker outing for summer 2002, featuring the original cast and newcomers.

"We certainly had hopes the tour would be greatly received, but I really didn't think it would [happen] that quickly," Posdnous says of the tour. "I thought it would take a couple of years. There are still a lot of things that we're fighting for but we're learning about what we're doing each and every day."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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