When De La Soul released an e.p. in 1988 on Tommy Boy Records, featuring the ground-breaking tracks “Jenifa”(Taught Me), “Plug Tunin’”, “Potholes In My Lawn”, “Skip 2 My Loop”, “Freedom Of Speak” and “Strictly Dan Stuckie”, it caught the world of hip-hop by surprise like no other group or artist before them.
The lyrics were so anti-what was rap music at the time, that it left listeners and critics confused but insanely curious at the same time. Their usage of peace signs on the dust sleeve of the record, as well as their almost psychedelic attire, caused people to label them “hippies.”
The fact that they called their movement the “Daisy Age” didn’t help matters either. Actually, the “Daisy Age” was an acronym for “Da Inner Sound Y’all”, a De La philosophy of lyrics aimed at broadening the subject matter of rap music to things more profound.
They had a group collective known as The Native Tongues with other like-minded artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, The Jungle Brothers, Monie Love, Queen Latifah, Chi-Ali and Black Sheep that lent even more credence to the whole hippie comparison with the commune like artistic community.
But De La , with the help of producer Prince Paul of the Brooklyn hip-hop band Stetsasonic, who like the group grew up in Amytiville, Long Island, NY, they pushed musical boundaries on rap music like never before.
In the golden sample age of the mid- to late 80s where everyone basically sampled James Brown, P-Funk and Sly, De La and Paul would lift snippets and form musical loops with music by Steeley Dan, Otis Redding, Hall And Oates, Wilson Pickett, The Turtles, Walt Disney turn the page 45s and even French language instructional records.
When their debut full-length debut release, “3 Feet High And Rising”, came out the following year on Tommy Boy Records, the whole took notice – even white folks. The fact that Rolling Stone Magazine eventually gave them a cover meant that they were definitely on to something, even if people weren’t entirely clear what it was. “3 Feet High And Rising” was funky, trippy, funny, serious, creative and definitely different. The name of the album itself came from a Johnny Cash song.
The subject matter of their songs, however, would change hip-hop forever. De La explored individualism on classics like: “Me, Myself And I”, The Magic Number”, materialism and trends on “Take It Off”, drug abuse on “Say No Go”, relationships on “Eye Know” and even the struggles of Black life in America on “Ghetto Thang.”
Then there were just fun crazy trip-outs like the classic posse track “Buddy.” The psychedelic “Transmitting Live From Mars” (which cost Tommy Boy Records a hundred grand settlement for an un-cleared Turtles sample), and of course the now all too famous album skit, which De La pioneered, complete with a follow-along comic book where you turn the page when you hear the sound.
The hippie backlash started to wear thin on the 3-man crew of Posdnous (Sop Sound backwards), Truguoy The Dove (yougurt backwards) and P.A. Mase. Their sophomore set, a 5- mic joint in The Source Magazine, confused people even more.
A broken flower pot was the cover of their 2nd offering called “De La Soul Is Dead.” Albeit the name was simply an expression of their distaste to the whole “hippie” comparison. The music was even more trippier and the subject matter even more expanded.
This time they tackled hip-hop stereotypes on “Afro Connections At A Hi-5”, police brutality on “Fanatic Of The B-Word”, the obsessive fans, “Ring, Ring, Ring (Ha Ha Hey), and even incest on “Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa.”
The album solidified that De La would not cave in to the old sophomore jinx. The album also solidified that De La, despite that morbid album title, still liked to have fun, as evidenced on joints like: A Rolling Skating Jam Named “Saturdays”, “Bitties In The BK Lounge” and “Pass The Plugs” Tunes like: “Pease Porridge” and “Oodles Of O’s” just demonstrated that they were revolutionizing music and still had some psychedelic philosophy left over from “3 Feet High And Rising.”
De La had to battle the onslaught of “gangsta rap” in 1993, with the release of “Buhloon Minstate,” which saw the Long Island trio embrace the production of a live band with the legendary James Brown side-man lending his sax playing for the party.
The political manifesto of 96’s “Stakes Iz High” was one of the most important rap albums ever released, but the world of hip-hop at that time was lost in the unhealthy haze of the east coast-west coast war, which eventually cost the lives of 2Pac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, the drug-riddled world of Wu-Tang, and the slowly creeping up of the Louisiana bling explosion, courtesy of the No Limit and Cash Money labels.
The new millennium saw De La announce plans for Tommy Boy to release an ambitious 3-record series entitled, “Art Official Intelligence” or “AOI” with each successive release to have a subtitle. 2000’s “Mosaic Thump” brought De La back to the charts with the hit singles: “Oooh” (featuring Redman And Pharoahe Monch), and “All Good?” (Featuring Chaka Khan). The 2nd installment, 2002’s “AOI” – Bionix, spawned the chart-climber and club-hit “Baby Phat” (Featuring Devin The Dude and Yummy Bingham).
The collapse of Tommy Boy Records that same year prevented the release of the 3rd installment in the “AOI” series from ever seeing the light of day. Dave (Truguoy) told The Community CONTACT backstage at the Telus Theater in Montreal in 2003, that the group eventually planned to release the 3rd installment independently, which was going to be a dj album from Mase, but that has yet to see the light of day officially.
2004, saw the group release a live album from a performance in ’96 at Tramps in NYC, as well as their heavily under-rated last studio album “The Grind Date.”
A collaboration with Gorillaz in ’05 nabbed a Grammy for the gentlemen. A collaborative album with France’s Chokolate and Khalid followed in 2012.
All throughout De La Soul continued to tour and proved to be one of the liveliest live hip-hop acts of all time.
And then came 2015, and De La Soul wondered themselves if they were even still relevant. First they began by putting out the feelers to the fans. Henceforth the Kickstarter crowd funding campaign.
De La wanted to know how badly their supportive fan base wanted a new album. Their goal was to raise $110,000 to fund their new album, which was a combo of new musical ideas and hundreds of hours of recorded jam sessions that they amassed over time. De La Soul reached their target goal in ten hours. They eventually reached over $600,000 dollars to finance this project, which promised to be a tour de force of rap music, too broad to simply be just another hip-hop album. The group held listening parties throughout the production of the set, which allowed those that had contributed financially to hear the album at different stages of its development.
With an eclectic guest list, including diverse artists such as Jill Scott, David Byrne of Talking Heads, Snoop Dogg, Pete Rock, Estelle and Usher, just to name a mere few, the set required tons of red tape and paper work to get clearance for most of these artists to appear on “Anonymous.”
Last spring they released a 4 track ep.
The album kicks off with a track aptly titled “Genesis,” featuring Jill Scott reciting poetry to rival anything Maya Angelou ever writes. Scott’s opening words echo De La’s creed of life: “I couldn’t be anybody but myself, hmmph, they know that.”
On “Royalty Capes” De La manages to speak on both their legacies and the business side of being De La Soul, with a clever twist of the word “royalty.”
The album’s 1st single “Pain,” ft. Snoop Dogg, even has the Smoked Out One behaving and moving away from drug talk. Pos raps: “No gain without tears or sweat between blue skies and white clouds steady driftin’”. Snoop meanwhile opines: “No weather, 4 letter, mo’ betta, slow pain, no gain go getta.”
“Whodeenie,” ft. 2 Chainz is a throwback to “Planet Rock” and “Pac-Jam” electro hip-hop. “Greyhounds”, ft. Usher, with its hypnotic keyboard fill, is about a good girl gone bad when she hits the big city, with an approach reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For The City.”
The Red Hot Chilli Pepperish rock/funk of “Snoopies,” ft. David Byrne, is new ground even for De la Soul. “Snoopies” bounces back and forth from a Talking Heads type of alternative groove and straight ahead hip-hop funk courtesy of live instrumentation.
“Here And After” stretches even more with De La harmonizing over radiohead-type rhythms and textures, with De La cooing over and over: “We’re still here now.”
The string intro to “Memories Of…(Us), ft. Pete Rock and U.K. r’n’b crooner Estelle, sets the tone of a reflective piece where Estelle sings: “It’s so easy to fall back to the memory of…”
The album’s irresistible ender “Exodus” closes off a magnum opus, but De La already has a few Magnum Opuses. But one things is clear, “De La Soul is not dead.”
– Gallant –
Warner Bros. Records
D.C. native Gallant (nee Christopher Gallant) makes his entrance into the music scene with all the right ingredients: Soulful r’n’b with an alternative rock influence sung by smooth-as-velvet vocals that owe just a tad of credit to Prince, D’angelo, Maxwell, and even Usher at times.
U.K. soulster calls himself Gallant’s biggest fan. The one time collaborator with rocker Sufjan Stevens, self-released an e.p. in 2014 called “Zebra.”
On his debut full-length release, Gallant keeps the party low-key and seductive. After a short instrumental intro, Gallant unleashes his irresistible falsetto vox on “Talking To Myself.” He reveals: “I’ve been talking to myself lately, I’m asking for advice.”
“Weight In Gold,” which he performed on NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” to a standing ovation, with its sparse beat and haunting guitar, has Gallant prophetically putting the weight of modern r’n’b on his shoulders: “I’m pullin’ my weight in gold, call me anxious, call me broke, but I can’t lift this on my own.”
The sexy “Jupiter” shows not only Gallant’s top notch lead vocals but also displays his background over dubs that show him to be somewhat of a seasoned vocalist for his age.
“Shot Gun” either has him waxing poetic on the “Black Lives Matter” movement, or his own mortality. Doesn’t really matter, the pain is heard loud and clear in the end.
The young man has arrived!
Rating – 7 ½ /10