Pop: Rap's coming home

RAP, SO long the thief of black music's fertile heritage, has suddenly discovered it has a history all of its own. What else could explain the resurgence of all things hip hop?

High-street shops are groaning with haute couture evolutions of track suits and trainers last seen in East Coast America's dodgiest housing projects, and those old school warriors, Run DMC, only recently relinquished their stranglehold on the charts with Beastie Boys collaborator Jason Nevins.

It would be tempting, then, to look to one of rap's longest-standing and most innovative acts to preside over this rejuvenation. De La Soul's 1989 album 3ft High and Rising was the form's high point, a jokey, intuitive classic, every bit as characteristic of the year as the Stone Roses' eponymous debut across the Atlantic.

The Daisy Age that the threesome were said to have heralded, proved to be nothing more than a brief respite in rap's decline. De La Soul offered rap an ironic, cerebral future at the start of the Nineties; instead it chose to water down the politicised scaremongering of more vitriolic groups such as NWA, credited for keeping their coruscating rants "real".

The Daisy Age was never going to survive gangsta rap's scathing nihilism, a fact that the group themselves recognised in their disastrous second album, De La Soul is Dead.

True to the prevailing mood in hip hop, the trio mounted a rootsy, stripped- down show last night. Free of flowery imagery, they performed with a grand piano propping up their record decks. Rap, they seemed to be saying, is coming home.

Posdunos, Dove and Mace were joined by another rapper and this addition seemed to sum up their refreshing attitude. De La Soul - while they've learnt how to party - still appeal to your better nature. The quartet rattled through 3ft High and Rising, not to get their best known hits ("Me, Myself and I" and "Hey, How Ya Doin") out of the way, but to get feet moving.

The fundamentals of hip-hop performance were there: the crowd participation, the good-time rhetoric. But they are still the only rap group you would take your mum to see.

In a sly dig at the misogyny notoriously peddled by Prodigy, De La Soul showed their liberal credentials: "Smack my bitch up? I never did it." It's hard to believe this vibrant bunch were responsible for the mordant "Stakes is High".

If De La Soul sound like social workers who found a microphone, they aren't. Other groups - Arrested Development and A Tribe Called Quest - inherited De La Soul's original intelligence, a succession that seems to suit them.

De La Soul are playing the Jazz Cafe, London NW1, tonight and tomorrow. This review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper