It’s hard to put into words the precise measure of joy many fans of founding and pioneering hip-hop group De La Soul are feeling today as the band’s catalog of songs are finally released for streaming platforms after decades of effectively zero access. It’s also a challenge to express how bittersweet it is, given the recent passing of Dave “Trugoy” Jolicoeurjust days before De La’s music is 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 in its early years has been criminally overlooked, in part because of the inaccessibility of their first four albums.
You see, their pioneering approach to sampling – from the Turtles to Johnny Cash to Steely Dan’s “Peg” and Schoolhouse Rock’s “The Magic Number” – and their label’s lack of licensing insight meant that their landmark albums were unavailable for decades. Not just on streaming platforms either. Couldn’t find tapes, vinyl or CDs for too long. As a result, their work has so often been shunned from the history of hip-hop and music in general. It was a crime against humanity.
It’s hard to explain why De La Soul was such an important and pioneering group, but “hard preaching was Posdnuos’ pleasure”, so let me do my best.
De La broke out in the early years of hip-hop, soon after things got really serious and a lot smarter than having a block party. For me, KRS-One taught how “knowledge reigned supreme” and Chuck D rapped about the fight against the power of the terror dome, then De La came out rapping about the DAISY era. No, it wasn’t a hippie thing; it was “Da Inna Sound Y’all”, and their lyrics sounded like Zen koans mixed with goofy comedic observations and rousing asides made by young men in their late teens to early twenties.
They were at the forefront of what some called, for a brief time at least, “positive rap,” and they formed a collective of like-minded bands like A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, and Queen Latifah. , among others.
De La Soul downright poked fun at the materialistic trappings of clichéd rappers of 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 bohemian standard in the early 90s.
They came from Amityville on Long Island and were proud of it, but their perspective was not entirely suburban. Yes, they had trees in their yard, but they also had potholes in their lawn. They were more imaginative in their own way than almost anyone else in rap music at the time, and opened intellectual doors to a remarkably diverse set of fans.
Their debut record, “Three Feet High and Rising” was named after a Johnny Cash snippet heard on the record. It was very popular, but the Daisy theme was misinterpreted by many as a silly “flower power” thing. Thus, their second record was titled “De La Soul is Dead” and featured dead flowers on the cover. “Buhloone Mindstate” was their third album, and my favorite, followed by “Stakes is Hight”, produced by flagship music producer J Dilla. These recordings are now all available for streaming.
For the past two years, I’ve started creating “Required Reading” playlists on Spotify for my sons so they can get to know specific artists. Marvin Gaye, Radiohead, Stevie Wonder, Nick Drake, The Beach Boys and REM have all received this treatment. And now, today? I can share my Required Reading: De La Soul playlist with them, which you can also check out below.