There truly aren't enough ways to praise De La Soul. Easily one of the most influential, most iconic, most creative, most conceptual, most cerebral, funniest and most consistent groups in hip-hop history, De La Soul is more than likely on your favorite rapper’s all-time favorite list - or should be.
So where the hell have they been all these years?
The common complications of label troubles, varying creative interests, age and interest have all played a part - but please believe: De La Soul is forever. And this Friday, August 26, the elder statesmen of conscience hip-hop will deliver their long-awaited newest project: and the Anonymous Nobody…
Boasting seventeen brand-new tracks and a stellar guest list all made possible through dedicated fans and their Kickstarter contributions, and the Anonymous Nobody… should surprise nobody if it delivers on the high expectations set for a group who began releasing classic albums in 1989.
I was lucky enough to see De La Soul live in October 2001, and the show instantly became one of my most-cherished hip-hop experiences ever; I was blown away by their performance as much as every single one of their projects.
In anticipation for and the Anonymous Nobody…, we decided to look back at all of De La’s full-length releases and their irreplaceable contributions to the hip-hop culture through the lyrics and memories of members Kelvin “Posdnuos” Mercer, David “Dove” Jolicoeur, Vincent “Maseo” Mason, Jr. and former member “Prince” Paul Huston.
3 Feet High and Rising (February, 1989)
With iconic artwork and a full slate of co-production from Prince Paul, 3 Feet High and Rising was selected as one of The Source Magazine's 100 Best Rap Albums in 1998. The album featured the Jungle Brothers and Q-Tip on the only collaboration track “Buddy.”
Necessary Listen: “Me, Myself and I”
The GRAMMY-nominated, certified-Gold second single reached No. 1 on four Billboard charts: Hot Rap Singles, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, Hot Dance Club Play and Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales. The track was added to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll list as well as was licensed to Macy’s for a marketing campaign nearly thirty years after the initial track release.
Quotable: “Please, oh please let Plug Two be himself / not what you read or write / right is wrong when hype is written / on the Soul / De La that is / style is surely our own thing / not the false disguise of showbiz / De La Soul is from the soul” - Dove
Praise: “I grew up on them dudes. That album actually changed my production. That’s kind of where my whole style for Quasimoto came from.” - Madlib
De La Soul Is Dead (May, 1991)
Again featuring Q-Tip - this time on the track “A Roller Skating Jam Named “Saturdays” - as well as Andres "Dres" Titus, one half of legendary New York duo Black Sheep, guest contributions were kept to a minimum. One of the first albums to receive a then-important 5 Mic rating by The Source Magazine, De La Soul is Dead continued De La’s ability to influence listeners with proactive positivity despite being generally regarded as ahead of their time. A heavily-detailed album filled with in-jokes and skits.
Necessary Listen: “Keepin’ The Faith”
One of my all-time favorite beats, the instrumental for this track could play on repeat forever and I’d be content. It’s easy to imagine “Keepin’ The Faith” as a significant influence to current tastemakers such as Daft Punk and The Avalanches. The lyrics themselves tell dueling tales of sexual desire up against strong defensive resistances and financial holdouts. The internal rhymes are subtle but present.
Quotable: “‘til one ring came / Jody blew a park / found about Jody ‘round the corner in the park / flipping like a dipstick / hip to the news / practicing the range / bellowing the blues” - Dove
Praise: “I rarely hear people refer to De La Soul Is Dead as a concept album and to be honest, the concept behind it really didn't unravel itself for me until later on. This album is the Emperor's New Clothes-- they're trying to strip off the hippie overtones and the scarlet letter of alt hip-hop. When this album first came out, I was really shocked that they were trying to distance themselves from the very album that gave me direction for what I wanted to do for the rest of my life; I lived by 3 Feet High and Rising and here they are trying to destroy that very dream. It weirded me out.” - ?uestlove
Buhloone Mindstate (September, 1993)
The group’s third record and last to be co-produced by Prince Paul, Buhloone Mindstate was also heavier on the features - from hip-hop icons Guru on “Patti Dooke” and Biz Markie on “Stone Age” to international act Scha Dara Parr on “Long Island Wildin’” and jazz icons Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis on “Patti Dooke.”
Necessary Listen: “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two)”
Named in part as an addition to the 1988 track “Ego Trippin’” by the Bronx, New York collective Ultramagnetic MC’s, the second single off Buhloone Mindstate remains the pinnacle of satirical takes on gangsta rap and its imagery. The accompanying music video drew the ire of Tupac Shakur, who was seemingly clowned in the video along with countless other ‘gangsta’ rap video trappings - from camera angles to subtitled mockery.
Quotable: “I got the joints to ‘make ya jump!’ / because I'm heading eastbound / tired of the ‘merry-go-round and around’ / and everybody's talking about you're so funny / but they still telling lies to me / I got the trees in my backyard / and it's hard for them to tell a lie to me” - Dove
Stakes Is High (July, 1996)
Another full-length album with iconic cover art, Stakes Is High featured early greatness from Common on “The Bizness” and Yasiin “Mos Def” Bey on “Big Brother Beat.” Future collaborator J Dilla co-produced the eponymous first single and the remixed version of second single “Itzsoweezee (HOT)”.
Necessary Listen: “Stakes Is High”
The title track does not disappoint, as Pos and Dove deliver scathing verses critical of the state and then-current culture of hip-hop across a delicious Dilla donut.
Quotable: “Yo / it's about love of cars / love of funds / loving to love mad sex / loving to love guns / love for opposite / love for fame and wealth / love for the fact of no longer loving yourself, kid / we living in them days of the man-made ways / where every aspect is vivid / these brothers no longer talk shit / hey, yo / these niggas live it” - Posdnuos
Praise: “I love this tune. It's one of my favorite beats period. Well, J. Dilla is my favorite hip-hop producer, hands down. I just love this beat — it's so melodic. And it comes from ‘Swahililand’ (by) Ahmad Jamal. I just love this tune.” - Robert Glasper
Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump (August, 2000)
Four years after Stakes Is High, De La Soul returned with the highly-anticipated Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, the planned first in a three-part full-length installment. The album is generally considered a modern-day classic, featuring production and verses from the upper echelon in hip-hop at the time, including Redman and Pharoahe Monch on the classic first single “Oooh.” and the J Dilla-produced “Thru Ya City” featuring Kenneth “D.V. Alias Khrist” Scranton. Interspliced within the supremely durable album are several hilarious “Ghost Weed” skits (“It’s not like...wow - it’s like...woah”.)
Necessary Listen: “With Me”
Sampling “After The Dance” by Marvin Gaye off his fourteenth studio album I Want You (with album cover art later sampled by Lil B and Camp Lo), Posdnuos and Dove trade verses dealing with romance and relationships on top of an incredibly infectious beat.
Quotable: “So I type it long with that ink that won't budge / or smudge off your memory / courtesy of SkyTel / my mail / pop up like some bubbles found on VH1 / also need the math to your color pH-1 / not the old man in the club who needs his dub to get rubbed / but sound the buzzer / I'm coming to sub” - Posdonous
AOI: Bionix (December, 2001)
A year-and-a-half later, De La Soul released the second installment: AOI: Bionix with similar cover art and classic collaborators: B-Real and J Dilla on “Peer Pressure” and a particularly inspired appearance from the God-level Slick Rick on the sexually-charged “What We Do (For Love).” Longtime record label partner Tommy Boy parted with Warner Bros. Records around the time of the AOI: Bionix release, leaving the slept-on sixth full-length De La abum without proper promotion or appreciation.
Necessary Listen: “Trying People”
One of my all-time favorite songs, hip-hop or otherwise. There is an eerily inspiring undertone within the Def 2 U-produced beat, with themes of motivation and patience discussed in typical eccentric De La style.
Quotable: “The skies over your head ain't safe no more / and hip-hop ain't your home / and if it is / you fucking up the crib, son / you make life look like I don't wanna live one / you might as well hold your breath until you die in a corner / somewhere bent over in the crevice / this God Theory overcomes the worst of weathers / as long as you willing to try / you on a good start, homie” - Dove
The Grind Date (October, 2004)
Interrupting the yet-to-be completed AOI trilogy was The Grind Date, another near-classic, cohesive release filled with topical-yet-timeless concepts and themes. Featuring some of the year’s best production from some of the game’s best producers, De La sounded necessary atop stellar production. Lead single “Shopping Bags (She Got From You)” was temporarily banned from BET, as the network inexplicably felt the subject matter was too high-brow and the group too irrelevant to gain airtime, despite a hilarious video and production from Madlib.
Necessary Listen: “Much More”
One of J Dilla’s finest beats was blessed with an urgent-sounding pair of verses from Dove and Pos. De La was able to reaffirm their cultural and musical legacy to a new generation when they performed the track on the eleventh episode of the premier season of Chappelle’s Show - itself known for giving airtime to performances of hip-hop’s best.
Quotable: “Them drums say the revolution is near - are you listening? / are your eardrums open for Christening? / we God Body MC's with these tools / while some others play God / they just goddamn fools with it / I don't cuff mics / I rough mics up / rough and rugged / yet the girls still love it / still and all / five-oh came to my mic check / telling me I left lacerations around my mic's neck / domestically dispute it and you just might get / the undisputed underdog serving y'all threat” - Posdnuos
Praise: “These dudes are from the Island, so there’s pride. They’re from Amityville, that’s Suffolk County, and I’m from Nassau County. It doesn’t matter though, it’s still the Island. Dudes were just proud of De La Soul, just to see how they did it major. When they came out, their was no denying that they were one of the biggest things going in music, period.” - Roc Marciano
and the Anonymous Nobody… (August, 2016)
The highly-anticipated, Kickstarter-funded eighth full-length album is scheduled for release on Friday, August 26, after an initial April 2016 release date was rescheduled - producing the For Your Pain & Suffering EP in the process.
The advanced track listing displays some of the largest and most-adventurous guests to collaborate with De La since their 1989 debut. Snoop Dogg is featured on lead single “Pain,” while Usher is featured on fifth single “Greyhounds.” Adding to the exciting guest list is Pete Rock (on “Memory of…(US)” with Estelle), England-based singer Justin Hawkins (“Lord Intended”), Scotland-born legend David Byrne (“Snoopies”) and Swedish quartet Little Dragon (on the awesome fourth single “Drawn”.) Beginning with “Pain” in June 2016, each single released thus far has been accompanied by apparent thematic cartoon cover art.
Necessary Listen: “Drawn”
The emotionally intense, barely hip-hop fourth single is more of a Little Dragon track than De La cut, but nonetheless impresses from an experimental, musical level. While the engineering behind the lone Pos verse is amature, much can be forgiven both due to the funding for the project and the risks taken in releasing such a song as part of their esteemed catalog.
A beautiful albeit simple song typical of Little Dragon and their increasingly brilliant approach. Consistently ahead of the curve, ahead of their time and ahead of the game, this is just the newest proof of De La Soul willing to go outside their non-existent comfort zone to discover and create new music.
Quotable: “Hip hop's lords / maybe / but my ways needs laundering / time's a-ticking / stop squandering” - Posdnuos
With eight full-length albums as a trio, countless other De La-related releases, an intriguing marketing campaign and fundraising approach, and the Anonymous Nobody… deserves your anticipation and high expectations. Consistently approaching hip-hop from a creative, cerebral approach, De La Soul are amongst the genre’s living legends.
I fully expect them to deliver an exciting, nuanced album for fans patiently waiting to hear what the trio has for 2016 - nearly thirty years since they began making hip-hop history.
By Matteo Urella, a Boston-based writer. Read more of his work at Medium.
Photo Credit: Instagram