These days, the word “classic” is thrown around as loosely as a Nerf ball at a picnic. However, we at TRU consider classics to be something which stand the test of time and have a resounding influence on their respective fields. But how do albums considered classics sound to the ears of TRU’s young blood? Aaron J. McKrell was born in 1990 and we’ve convinced him to turn his scope on a classic from the rich history of hip-hop to view it through a contemporary lens in a weekly series we call…
It is safe to say I have never heard anything like De La Soul. Every time I thought I had the group figured out, they’d throw me a curveball a la “De La Orgee.” That doesn’t mean their zaniness is a bad thing. O contraire, I thoroughly enjoyed “3 Feet High and Rising.” De La Soul consists of Posdnous, Trugoy and Maseo. Pos (Plug One) and Trugoy aka Dave (Plug Two) are technically strong, smooth-sounding emcees who mesh together seamlessly, backed by P.A. Pasemaster Mase (Plug Three) on the wheels of steel. The fact that they aren’t all that distinguishable from each other works well for the sake of the group, because it means no one rapper is bigger than De La Soul. As Posdnous said on “Magic Number:” “Without my one and my two, where would I be?”
While he wasn’t officially a part of the group, Prince Paul can be seen as the fourth memeber, as he essentially created De La’s sound. Paul proves himself a master of samples; each one is purposely placed to enhance a song. For evidence of this, peep “Cool Breeze on the Rocks,” where he uses samples of rappers shouting/rapping the word “rock” in an impressive succession. His jazzed-out, funky beats are dope enough to stand on their own, as they do in between/after De La’s verses on multiple songs. Simply put; he’s a beast on the boards, no Barkley. Paul also invented the album interlude, which makes me want to leave something on his doorstep-though I’m not sure if that something is a gift basket or flaming bag of dog crap. In Paul’s defense, the skits serve the album well, even if there’s a few too many of them. As far as content, De La Soul is positive hip-hop done right. Rather than beat you over the head with a hyped-up inspirational rhetoric, De La uses smooth metaphors and easy-flowing music to convey their messages. It also helps that they infuse positivity with hilarity. Who else in hip-hop, back then or today, could get away with rapping about staying positive and having conversations with animals- on the same song? That’s “Tread Water” for you. Sometimes, the group’s comedy misses; the yodeling on “Potholes in my Lawn” frankly sucks, and the French-speaking interlude “Transmitting Live from Mars” is lame. Fortunately, those misses are far less frequent than De La’s comedic antics, and even when they’re not funny, they’re usually still fun.
De La Soul may be one of the few groups which can convincingly tread on serious topics such as urban ills and drug abuse (“Ghetto Thang” and “Say No Go,” respectively) and still be smooth and funky. The love ode “Eye Know,” is the album’s opus, and is everything De La; beautiful, smooth, fun and warm- all without being all Hallmark on us. My only beef with this album is that it is too long. While most of the tracks are listenable and even repeat-worthy, some should have been left out for a more enjoyable listening experience. For instance, “Me Myself and I” would have sounded a lot better had it not been placed at track number 20 of 24. The length of the album does damper the listening experience for me.
At the end of the day though, De La Soul is dope. They are a group to be reckoned with that doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Really, they’re just normal guys who I feel I could dap up without trepidation, and that’s a compliment. Rather than spout off about self-importance and materialism, they renounce fancy clothes and poke fun themselves. Basically, De La Soul works because they’re themselves. With today’s hip-hop landscape full of fronting MCs and clones, they are more important than ever. Without ever having to say it, they lead by example with a rhetoric my generation needs to follow; be comfortable in your own skin.
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