In a time where hip-hop was beginning to transcend past the mainstream barriers, a group of three unique individuals took it upon themselves to keep the genre rooted in its rich culture. The Long Island trio known as De La Soul were one of the first acts to go against the grain and make music for the sake of their passion for hip-hop. The unconventional sound they blended alongside their fellow Native Tongues was a breath of fresh air in the culture and proved you didn’t have to conform to a specific style to be taken serious as an emcee. The group remained strong throughout their thirty years of unity, helping shift the climate with each record.
De La Soul are one of the most respected names within the culture, but lost base on the modern audience due to the lack of catalog available in the streaming era. This was a result of the infamous public disputes with their former record label, Tommy Boy, who held their early catalog hostage for many years. Now that the group has reclaimed ownership of their work, the entire De La Soul resume is available on all digital streaming platforms as of March 3, 2023.
To celebrate the momentous occasion in the history of hip-hop and to celebrate the life of group member Plug Two aka Trugoy the Dove aka Dave, we will take on the tumultuous task of sorting through the catalog and ranking each De La Soul group record.
8. AOI: Bionix (2001)
To say this record is at the very bottom of the list is quite a statement considering how it triumphs other artists’ best efforts. The Art Official Intelligence era was marked as a transitional period in the history of the group as they had begun to stray away from the non-conformist nature of their roots. Though still radiant with an immature charm through skits on the record, each member displayed signs of growth on this continued effort, still rapping at a high caliber over a production style that fit the sign of the times. However, the album never really got the push it deserved due to disputes with Tommy Boy beginning to stir around this time. What was supposed to be a triple album series halted in the middle of their journey as the group ventured into another lane, artistically.
Looking back on the record as a whole, AOI: Bionix is a consistent record wielding some of the group’s best tracks scattered throughout the tracklist.
Best tracks: “Baby Phat”, “Special”, “Held Down”, “Trying People”
7. Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump (2000)
As mentioned, the group planned out a triple album series under the title, Art Official Intelligence. The name was an obvious play on the term Artificial Intelligence, keeping the spirit of hip-hop alive as the culture shifted to the futuristic sound that dominated the early 2000s. They didn’t branch too far out though as the bouncy production kept the atmosphere alive throughout the entire experience. The record spawned a multitude of hits that helped the group reach billboard spots and Grammy nominations, but not once did the album feel like it was intentionally reaching for those heights. Pos, Dave and Mase kept it cool as they reconvened for their first effort in four years, displaying a better sense of writing and artistry.
The record did get lost in the mix of overwhelming nature of hip-hop’s mainstream success throughout the early 2000’s and the contract disputes the spawned after its release, but Mosaic Thump is a solid effort that’ll help you get moving once you hit play.
Best tracks: “All Good?”, “Ooh”, “My Writes”, “Declaration”
6. and the Anonymous Nobody… (2016)
De La Soul’s latest effort was a 2016 record that was funded by the help of fans who donated what they could to see another De La album come to life. The kickstarter exceeded the expected amount of $110,000, allowing the trio to be creative with almost no limits on the financial side of things. The result was a breathtaking piece of work composed of live instrumentation, contemplative concepts and solid vocal performances from each member of the group. Despite a twelve-year gap since their last record, Pos, Dave and Mase showed that they hadn’t missed a single step when it came to this hip-hop shit. Sonically, the album strived to hit all corners, whether it was Pete Rock production or Damon Albarn and Little Dragon collaborations.
In a sense, the album acts a celebration of the eclectic styles that De La Soul has helped elevate throughout the course of their career. Even with the Grammy noms, it feels like the record continues to be overlooked when discussing the De La Soul catalog. Don’t let the placement fool you, the album is amazing from front to back.
Best tracks: “Memory of… (US)”, “Pain”, “Property of Spitkicker.com”, “Whoodeeni”
5. The Grind Date (2004)
A heavily underrated gem in the De La Soul repertoire. The Grind Date is the perfect culmination of the early to mid 2000s hip-hop scene, featuring the culture’s finest contributors on the mic and behind the boards. What was intended to be the finale to the Art Official Intelligence series became a loose entry drenched in soul samples and bass bounce. With a stacked production roster consisting of names like J Dilla, 9th Wonder and Madlib, the trio zoned in and continued to hone their individual skills as emcees. In fact, one could argue that this record contains some of the group’s best rapping to date.
With cuts like the infamous “Rock Co.Kane Flow” featuring the late great MF DOOM and “He Comes” starring the legendary Ghostface Killah, the group proved they could still rhyme at a high caliber, going toe to toe with the culture’s lyrical heavyweights. The record sort of suffered the same fate as its first two predecessors, but cuts off The Grind Date continue to live on as cult classics across different audiences, and a monstrous record with the Gorillaz helped give the record a new breath of life.
Best tracks: “Much More”, “Rock Co.Kane Flow”, “He Comes”, “Days of Our Lives”
4. De La Soul Is Dead (1991)
This placement can be a bit controversial depending on who sees this. Now, the stretch between this album and the number 2 spot can all fluctuate and it wasn’t easy putting this masterclass of a concept record at the very middle of the list. De La Soul Is Dead soaked in the perilous thoughts that come with a sophomore record; the overwhelming cloud of hoping you don’t fall to the sophomore jinx is sometimes too much for an artist to bear. But in classic De La Soul fashion, the group spun the narrative into a worthy continuation of their classic debut.
Though it separated from the daisy age theme of the debut, De La Soul Is Dead maintained the classic hip-hop sound that radiated throughout its predecessor. It’s hard not to ignore a record with tracks like the engaging “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa” and the groovy “Pass the Plugs” standing at the center. Admittedly, the album does get a bit overshadowed by the colossal titan that was 3 Feet High and Rising along with a petty feud with Arsenio Hall for calling them “hippies of hip-hop”, but De La Soul Is Dead is a landmark in the De La Soul catalog. The trio managed to brush off the sophomore jinx title and etch their names in hip-hop history forever.
Best tracks: “Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa”, “Pass the Plugs”, “My Borther’s A Basehead”, “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)”
3. Buhloone Mindstate (1993)
“It may blow up, but it’ll never go pop.”
1993 was a wonderful year in hip-hop as it ushered in a jazz-inspired renaissance throughout the culture. Digable Planets’ Reachin debut in the same year would mark the beginning of the shift while Guru’s Jazzmatazz would help build the bridge between both genres with direct jazz and hip-hop collaborations. However, De La Soul’s interpretation of the pipeline would be marked as an immediate standout in a sea of classic material as they geared up for their third album.
Buhloone Mindstate would show the group’s willingness to grow artistically, taking a different creative route from their first two records. Each track was infused with jazz instrumentation to play a sturdy support role to the main cast’s infatuating rhymes. Pos, Dave and Mase kept the same goofy energy flowing, but the progress in their rhymes compared to their first few records was clear as day. Though the group was in a position to take their careers to the next level, Buhloone Mindstate acted as their mantra to remain rooted in the realm that doesn’t call for sacrificing their artistic integrity.
Various disputes with De La Soul and other important figures in the culture had their effect on the public reception of the album; for this Buhloone Mindstate remains as the group’s most overlooked effort in their catalog.
Best tracks: “Breakadawn”, “Ego Trippin’ [Part Two]”, “Patti Dooke”, “I Am I Be”
2. Stakes Is High (1996)
A lot of people go a tad bit overboard when associating De La Soul as a “conscious hip-hop” act. Though the group was ahead of their in terms of style and commentary, the group was always geared towards what sound made sense for them in that moment rather than constant preaching. However, the mid 90s escalated tension throughout the culture, with the topic of violence in hip-hop inching as the elephant in the room. Stakes Is High was De La’s attempt at acknowledging the gloomy atmosphere surrounding the culture.
The trio was already known for going against the genre’s trends, but it was clear that they were concerned with the direction that hip-hop was headed in with events like the deadly East Coast/West Coast beef occurring. In more ways than not, the efforts that De La poured into this record helped inspire the aftermath of hip-hop’s deadliest war, bringing core audiences back to a ground level. The record even features names like Common, Mos Def and J Dilla who helped pave the road to recovery along with the Soulquarian movement.
Stakes Is High was a turning point in the De La Soul discography; the group did their best to push away the inauthenticity of mainstream culture, but sometimes its best to focus on the task at hand than to constantly preach to the bigger picture. This album is usually viewed as their best record from artistic standpoint—depending on who you ask—but it’s hard to pit the high of this record to the worldwide impact of the final entry.
Best tracks: “Stakes Is High”, “The Bizness”, “Long Island Degrees”, “4 More”
1. 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
Arguably one of the most influential albums of all time across all genres, De La Soul shook up the hip-hop world with their debut record. 3 Feet High and Rising was a complete opposite to the status quo with its unconventional sound and vibrant atmosphere. The carefree nature of the record is what donned them the “hippies of hip-hop” title that they despised as they weren’t even fully aware of the Woodstock culture that everybody associated them with. The trio wasn’t worried about conforming to a specific style or trying to make a radio record; the only thing that mattered at the time was the quality of the music and how dope each member was on the mic.
What made 3 Feet High and Rising so special was the fact that it became the first time we saw personality radiating throughout a record with wacky skits and humorous lines. In a time where street cred and narcissism was on the checklist to becoming an emcee, De La Soul disregarded all criteria and strived to make what felt good to them. The trio of emcees were no slouches though as they also proved that they could get busy on the mic when they wanted to. More than thirty years since its release, the album stands as a major pillar in the culture, influencing the generations that followed to go against the grain and try different ideas in music.
Without 3 Feet High and Rising, the world would be completely different compared to what it is today. Much love to De La Soul for three full decades of excellence and influence.
Best tracks: “Me Myself and I”, “The Magic Number”, “Eye Know”, “Buddy”, “Plug Tunin”
R.I.P Trugoy the Dove aka Dave, your name will forever be etched and echoed throughout history.