De La Soul at 25

by: Michael Shields

Celebrating 25 years of real hip-hop with De La Soul…

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In 1987, on the island of Long Island, a trio known as De La Soul was forged into being, their emergence changing the landscape of hip-hop as we knew it. Three men, Kelvin Mercer (aka. Posdnuos, Mercenary, Plug Wonder Why, Plug One), David Jude Jolicoeur (aka. Trugoy the Dove, Dave, Plug Two) and Vincent Mason (aka. P.A. Pasemaster Mase, Maseo, Plug Three, Baby Huey), whose combined powers were greater than the sum of their parts, represented an extraordinary amassing of artistic talent. High school classmates, these young savants caught the attention of producer Prince Paul with a demo tape of the song “’Plug Tunin,” and hip-hop music was never the same again.

In 1989 De La Soul released their debut album, a game-changer in every sense of the word, entitled 3 Feet High and Rising. 3 Feet and High and Rising sounded like nothing else before it. Within its eclectic, playful tracks were multifarious samples, quirky rhymes, and diverse influences such as jazz, funk, pop, psychedelia, and soul. Championing the ““D.A.I.S.Y. Age” (da inner sound, y’all), 3 Feet High and Rising was cutting-edge and established not only De La Soul as a mainstay in the game, but an entire collective known as the Native Tongues which included A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, Queen Latifah, and the Jungle Brothers amongst others. Lyrically, 3 Feet High and Rising focused on striving for peace and harmony, a rather bold idea in hip-hop at the time. De La Soul went on to release seven more albums and a slew of mixtapes, compiling an unprecedented catalogue of music and forever staking their claim as one of the greatest hip-hop acts of all time.

De La Soul was different, possibly the most self-aware and sardonic group in the history of hip-hop. From their outset, they were in tune with the ridiculousness permeating a large segment of hip-hop culture, their persona booming with positivity and humor as opposed to ostentatious displays of wealth or vapid braggadocio. So progressive was De La Soul’s sound, that many dismissed the group as hippies, yet while prevailing as a striking alternative to the genre, let’s not get it twisted, De La Soul is hip-hop, embodying the purest form of the art. Always reinventing themselves, De La Soul has remained a mainstay in a game whose tastes change by the minute, and they’ve done it the only way they know how, by remaining true to who they are.

As you may know, De La Soul have been celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. Part of this celebration included giving away their entire catalog for free download, a generous act which they’ve since won the Artist of the Year Webby Award for. This year long celebration culminated with a sold-out anniversary concert at Irving Plaza in NYC this week. It was an intoxicating celebration, a party where specialty drinks dubbed ‘Stakes is High,’ ‘Breakadawn,’ and ‘Me Myself and I’ were served and enjoyed en masse. A celebration that involved family members, and those who influenced De La Soul’s lives and careers. Where J Dilla beats and shout-outs echoed off the walls with affection. Where Common graced the stage to perform multiple tracks with De La Soul, including the renowned “The Bizness,” bounding about the stage with an ear to ear grin, honoring the group whom he said, “changed his life.” Where Jarobi from a Tribe Called Quest joined in on the fun, along with Q-Tip who backboned a spirited performance of “Saturday.” And where Dres from Black Sheep took the stage to ignite the crowd with his fan-favorite “The Choice is Yours,” whipping the crowd into utter hysteria. Die-hard fans of the group for over two decades were able to shower De La Soul with well-earned praise, paying homage to these living legends while engaging in lively call and response, joining together in a mass display of solidarity under the banner of real hip-hop.

Although De La Soul can be found commemorating the past, the band is still very much living in the present. Today, De La Soul continue to tour the globe and are currently working on their 8th studio album, entitled “You’re Welcome.” Twenty-five years in and De La Soul shows no signs of wear, and their legacy and influence are as evident today as it was upon the release of their groundbreaking debut. They have paved the way for literally all the alternative hip-hop acts who followed in their wake. And, after all these years, the sonic collages they have gifted us still sound as fresh, unique, and impressive as they did over two decades ago.

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