“De La Soul …from the soul…Black medallions, no gold.”
It’s difficult to put into words the precise measure of glee that many fans of the seminal and pioneering Hip-hop act De La Soul fans are feeling today as the group’s back catalog of songs is finally released for streaming platforms after decades of effectively zero access. It’s also a challenge to express just how bittersweet this is, given the recent passing of Dave “Trugoy” Jolicoeur, just days before De La’s music was digitally resurrected.
Or maybe? The resurrection of De La’s back catalog so close to his passing is… sort of perfect.
Hip Hop culture currently defines American — if not global — youth culture. And De La Soul’s impact on its evolution during its toddler years has been criminally overlooked, partly due to the inaccessibility of their first four albums.
You see, their pioneer approach to sampling — from the Turtles to Johnny Cash to Steely Dan’s Peg to Schoolhouse Rock’s “The Magic Number” — and the lack of licensing acumen from their record label meant that their seminal records were unavailable for decades. Not just on streaming platforms, you couldn’t find tapes, vinyl, or CDs for far too long. As a result, their work was left out of the evolution of hip-hop and music in general, which, honestly? Was a crime against humanity.
It’s difficult to explain why De La Soul was such an important and pioneering group, but “difficult preaching was Posdnous pleasure,” so allow me to do my best.
De La broke out in the earlier stages of hip-hop, shortly after things got really serious and much smarter than rocking a block party. For me, KRS-One was teaching about how “knowledge reigned supreme,” and Chuck D was rapping about fighting the power from the terror dome, then De La came out rapping about the D.A.I.S.Y Age. No, it wasn’t a hippy thing; it was “Da Inna Sound Y’all,” and their lyrics were like zen koans mixed with goofy comedy observations and horny asides made by young men in their late teens into their early 20s.
They were pioneers of what some called, for a brief spell at least, “positive rap,” and they formed a collective of similarly-minded groups like A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers and Queen Latifah, among others.
De La Soul literally mocked the materialistic trappings of cliched rappers at the time. Making fun of spending too much money on gold dookie chains, which they eschewed for a more afro-centric style that became a boho standard throughout the early 90s.
They came from Amityville in Long Island and were proud of it, but their perspective wasn’t entirely suburban. Yes, they had trees in their backyard, but they also had potholes in their lawns. They were more imaginative in their way than almost anyone else in rap music at the time and opened many intellectual doors for a remarkably diverse set of fans.
Their first record, “Three Feet High and Rising” was named after a Johnny Cash sample heard on the record. It was very popular, but the Daisy theme was misconstrued by many as some dumb “flower power” thing. So their second record was titled “De La Soul is Dead” and featured dead flowers on the core. “Buhloone Mindstate” was their third record, and my favorite, followed by Stakes is Hight, produced by seminal music producer J Dilla. These records are now all available to stream.
Over the past couple of years I’ve started making “Required Reading” playlists on Spotify for my sons so that they can get to know specific artists. Marvin Gaye, Radiohead, Stevie Wonder, Nick Drake, The Beach Boys and R.E.M. have all received this treatment. And now, today? I can share with them my Required Reading: De La Soul playlist, which you can check out below as well.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.