Influence Unmarked: De La Soul

The Magic Number”

As consumers, we need to acknowledge the founders of this hip-hop culture we’ve all come to love. Many receive their flowers, but what about the pioneers swept under the rug? They’re important too, and deserve the recognition.

De La Soul are, undoubtedly, one of the most odd yet essential hip-hop acts. Introduced as “hip-hop hippies”, it was already clear they would leave behind a legacy like no other. This post exists to focus on that.

“The D.A.I.S.Y. Age”

3 Feet High and Rising is something that set the tone for a LOT of hip-hop albums. When initially released, it was received very well. Also considered weird – which it is – but that by no means is a bad thing. Helping introduce jazz rap to the world, it is considered an essential of the Native Tongues collective – considering of them, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, and more.

Most notable is its introduction of skits and interludes to hip-hop. Tracks such as “Transmitting Live From Mars”, “A Little Bit Of Soap”, and “Do As De La Does” open up an opportunity for the album to flow smoothly while also maintaining interesting qualities; see it as a canvas of random ideas and sounds. An example is the crude “De La Orgee”; while not appealing to everybody, it sets the tone and lyrical content of the classic track “Buddy”. The usage of skits was popularized in 90’s hip-hop, and has maintained relevance to this day.

Think of it this way; albums such as good kid, m.A.A.d city would not be the same without the ideas this album introduced. It reaches that far in impact.

“De La Soul…Is Dead”

While 3 Feet High and Rising was an influence on album structure and sound, De La Soul Is Dead broke the mold in what was rapped about.

While everybody else rapped about slinging drugs, they dedicated a track to telling the story of a drug-addicted family member. Instead of following the trends of misogyny, they told the dangers of ignorant sexual abuse victims. They even managed to address criticisms of their music and style without coming off as resentful; something they even replicated in later releases.

Additionally, this album expanded upon 3 Feet‘s usage of skits through applying them to a consistent story. They play into this ongoing concept of this album being a “lost De La Soul tape”; the people that listen to it constantly criticize it throughout the skits, which is even a creative mockery of ignorant music critics that ruin their image. This became a common theme in hip-hop with time, being approached by the likes of Method Man to Kanye West.

“It Won’t Go Pop”

Artistic evolution is important. A career can only be so interesting when the artist approaches music the same way every time; not many artists in De La’s era cared about authenticity and progression, which is yet another factor that makes them special.

1993’s Buhloone Mindstate is their refusal to follow trends. The album is an experimental nebula of live instrumentation and unconventional tracks, yet manages to be just as excellent as their first two albums in vision. Alongside Gang Starr member Guru’s first installment of the acclaimed Jazzmatazz series, this album popularized getting musical legends on board to sample live instruments; something that remains a hip-hop trend to this very day.

On another end, Stakes Is High is the original “hip-hop is dead”. Many artists have tried to conceptualize this idea to vast criticism, but Stakes was never seen as bitter or corny. It was De La’s cynical view of the industry, and they even cleverly mocked the idea of hip-hop being generic through making the album their most sonically “normal” to date. There’s genius behind each layer.

What About Today?

Considering the group’s infamous struggles with their masters and getting music widely available, it is no surprise that their importance may be slightly undermined. The culture will always acknowledge their relevance, from mainstream artists (“JAY-Z”) to the underground new school (“Pro Era”); however, explaining it to the average hip-hop consumer may be far more difficult.

Regardless of this damaged legacy, it is a legacy nonetheless. It’s a necessity to give legends their credit, and De La is nothing short of excellence. One of the greatest groups ever; and if this post failed to explain their influence, hopefully seeing your favorites give them props will.