Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Electric Relaxation: Digging into De La Soul

I grew up barely being exposed to hip-hop but I still knew about "Me, Myself and I", a positive song from this Long Island trio of pseudo hippies (wait, no they weren't, that's pure Plug 4). The more I got into hip hop last decade, I kept hearing them mentioned among the greatest groups ever but it didn't make sense to me.

Knowing De La Soul's history - I thought they fell off after Buhloone Mindstate (Breakadawn is still among one of my favorite songs and I remember some classmates did a science rap to it in 5th grade). I remember hearing "Ooh" but I guess they were just that constant group that made solid albums but not make an impact since their debut.

The funny thing was that I never heard 3 Feet High or De La Soul is Dead all the way through. Then I read a blog from Phonte of Little Brother who said that in 1996 that "Stakes is High" along with "It Was Written" helped create the commercial vs. underground divide. Then I saw De La at Rock the Bells in 08 and they made me a bigger fan.

After having a few singles on my ipod (Roller Skating Jam still must be played every Saturday) I finally bought all three albums last month - part of my first major Amazon purchase by the way. All I have to say is what the heck took me so long???

3 Feet High is one of the great sampling masterpieces in hip-hop (along with It Takes a Nation of Millions and Paul's Boutique). But it's also a great piece of cohesion where the skits and songs put you in a great mood. It's an example of what music should be. Start to finish, it just makes me feel good.

Plus the sampling is ridiculous. "Eye Know" and "Potholes in My Lawn" are just examples of great songs combined with a mixture of songs that you don't think go well together.

*sidenote, shout out to my Amazon seller that gave me the 20th anniversary edition with some extra tracks!*

Then you have De La Soul is Dead - the title says it all, the end of the so-called hippie phase. It's not an about face musically, it keeps things going with a hint that its about to get real. Case in point: "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa" - the rap version of "Janie's Got a Gun."

Both albums are long but don't feel like it. They take you through an experience and it makes you appreciate Prince Paul's genius as a producer. Musically they have little peer but there's still some great lines on here that show you why Pos, Trugoy and Maceo are underrated lyricists.

Nowhere is this clear than on Stakes is High. It almost sounds like the blueprint for how to do an underground album - criticize the mainstream, come correct on dope beats, talk about the old days, and stay true to yourself. It's a call to arms to get back to the essence.

The title track says it all and it's still relevant today. After coming hard in the song with Trugoy and a young J Dilla, Pos' last verse just hits you with some realness. There's great songs in "Supa Emcees", "Tha Bizness" with Common and "Big Brother Beat" with Mos Def.

Basically, if you haven't listened to 3 Feet or DLSID (and they're both hard to find at most major retailers), get on it.

Now back to my currently listening slate - Distant Relatives (Nas/Damian Marley), Revolutions Per Minute (Talib Kweli/Hi Tek's reunion) and LeftBack (Little Brother's swan song - which reminds me I'm missing their final show in LA tomorrow). And Janelle Monae on deck? I'm set for a while.

Somehow I'll get around to Janelle Monae. Anyways, here's "Eye Know" - smile everybody.

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