Soul Survivors

To a hip-hop fan, writing about how good De La Soul is or how much De La Soul has contributed to the progression and preservation of true hip-hop would be like writing about this hip new place called Silver Lake—ever heard of it?—while drawing comparisons to Williamsburg or doing an expos on these newfangled things called blogs.

While those in the know recognize De La Soul's profound contribution to hip-hop, scads of people have heard the name without knowing what they do or have done.

So here is a De La Soul tutorial: Our lesson begins with Demon Days, the second LP from the Damon Albarn progeny group Gorillaz. The very dudes rapping on the release's lead single? None other than De La Soul.

Albarn's collaboration with the rappers produced the hookiest non-hook I've heard in years: “Don't stop, get it, get it/Until you're Cheddar header/Yo, watch the way I navigate/ahahahaha.” And just like how Del helped to nudge Gorillaz's lead single off their first full-length, “Dirty Harry,” De La helped to launch Gorillaz headfirst into the real, real mainstream: hello, massive airplay, roller-skating iPod commercial and performing with Madge herself at the 2006 Grammys!

But De La got started much earlier than that, with 1989's 3 Feet High and Rising, a critically acclaimed smash success for the hip-hop world. And it was there did De La make another mainstream impression you've probably heard of: “Me, Myself and I”—you know, “Mirror, mirror on the wall/Tell me, mirror, what is wrong?/Can it be my De La clothes/Or is it just my De La song?”

3 Feet High and Rising, probably the only hip-hop record named after a Johnny Cash lyric, preached a message of love and peace and all sorts of warm, happy, gooey stuff that most other rap groups in the '80s just didn't care about. In “Plug Tunin”: “Dove'll teach the truth, Posdnuous will preach the youth/To the fact that this will bring an end to the negative/Flow to the sway 'cause I say fa-so-la-ti/At the top we dwell/Difference is fame, and we rise, then we build.”

This was part of the D.A.I.S.Y. era, which stands for Da Inner Sound, Y'all. De La Soul, comprised of Posdnuos, Dave and Maseo, brought sampling to a whole new level with this debut LP—drawing from Johnny Cash, Hall N Oates, Steely Dan, and others. Produced by Prince Paul, 3 Feet High and Risingwas commercially successful (No. 1 on the Billboardcharts), critically acclaimed, and it influenced sampling for years to come.

But instead of getting comfortable with the formula and releasing something else in the same vein, the group mixed things up on their 1991 follow-up, De La Soul Is Dead, which focused on calling out the violent state and direction in which hip-hop was headed: “Yo, my name is MC No Shame, and when I ain't getting busted in bed with your mama or sellin' crack to the kids at Amityville High School, hey, I'm listening to my man, the Doo Doo Man, on WRMS, peace!”

Later, “Supa Emcees” off Stakes Is High similarly called out fake MCs—”I heard you want to fight me, with your words onstage/So Mase pulls that instrumental from the jam YOU made/And as he starts cutting what you sold, I'll talk all over your tones/as if my name was Pete Rock or Sean 'Puffy' Combs/ Send your tattered ass home, with celly phones I roam/with my fleet, here to make this rap game complete.”

And more than anything, we are forever indebted to De La Soul for introducing many of rap's best and brightest onto the scene—A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def—and working with some of the best and brightest period, such as Common, LA Symphony, Biz Markie, MF Doom, Ghostface Killah, and the list goes on.

The importance of De La Soul's collaborative efforts over the years is more dramatic when you consider the present state of the hip-hop genre. (Have you heard the top rap song on the charts right now? Mims' “This Is Why I'm Hot”? I mean, seriously: “This is why I'm hot, this is why I'm hot, this is why, this is why, this is why I'm hot this is why I'm hot”—and he never really goes on to explain whyhe's hot?)

With De La Soul's career having spanned almost 20 years and its presence still being felt, it's amazing these legends' Orange County show is not at Verizon, the Honda Center or even the House of Blues, but in Santa Ana at the gritty Galaxy. Those in the know will be front and center.


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