A peasy-headed trio of teens from Long Island, NY made an indelible mark on Hip-Hop over twenty years ago. Armed with a dry sense of humor, a kitchen sink approaching to sampling and production, and a keen critical eye for the various twists and wrong turns that Hip-Hop would take over the years, De La Soul were the genre’s black sheep and its conscience.
Pos, Dave, and Mase were not afraid to call out their peers, but also had a fun, loose, approach to their craft. They thumbed their collective noses at the Hip-Hop establishment, but were almost universally beloved. They were hippies, curmudgeons, dead and reborn. They were futuristic, retro, underground Grammy winners. They were one of a kind. They were De La Soul. This is The Primer Series.
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1. “Me Myself & I”
The Long Island trio wasn’t afraid to let their respective freak flags fly from the very beginning. De La’s refusal to conform, even in the face of quizzical looks from confused Hip-Hop heads, turned even the hardest of hard rocks into lifelong fans.
2. “Potholes In My Lawn”
The definition of biting and the penalties dished out to the transgressors that could not keep their teeth to themselves has changed quite a bit over the years. Early in Hip-Hop’s history, biters were treated the way most societies treat pedophiles. These days biters are treated the way the Catholic Church treats pedophiles. De La Soul was typically wary of those who would try to steal from them, and so creative that they found a clever way to expose the beat biters and dope style takers in their periphery.
The whole Native Tongues crew is in the house for this one. A clever jam directed at the ladies “Buddy” is at once simple and sweet, while simultaneously weaving double entendre and outright dirty jokes. It’s fun. It’s funny. It’s a jam.
4. “Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa”
One of the best, and darkest, stories ever told in Hip-Hop history, the three plugs detail how a female classmate was driven to murdering her sexually abusive father who, oh by the way, happened to be a mall Santa. That will make you think twice about whose knee you let your child sit on.
5. “Stakes Is High”
It’s crazy to think that De La was lamenting the state of Hip-Hop in a year that saw the releases of Reasonable Doubt, It Was Written, Ridin Dirty, ATLiens, and The Score. There are plenty of older Hip-Hop fans that would give anything to return to that era, but some of the same complaints (“I’m sick of bitches shakin asses/I’m sick of talkin’ bout blunts […]/Sick of half ass award shows/sick of name brand clothes”) still fill the comments sections and Twitter feeds of thoughtful listeners and curmudgeons alike.
Two Motown legends provide the assist on this underappreciated single from Buhloone Mindstate. Pairing a vocal sample from Smokey’s “Quiet Storm” with Michael’s melancholy “I Can’t Help It” is a smooth counterpoint to Pos’ assault of the rough and tumble drum sample. Dave gets in where he fits in, but this is a classic performance by Plug One.
7. “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two)”
De La is in a familiar role here, creatively criticizing excess and gangster posturing, and having fun the whole time. Call backs to classic Hip-Hop lines and songs, layered metaphors and similes, and inside jokes are peppered throughout the track, which is fueled by an upbeat sample of Al Hirt’s “Harlem Hindoo.”
8. “Rock Co.Kane Flow”
Jake One’s stuttering beat is handled deftly by Dave and Pos, and MF DOOM turns in a typically amazing guest appearance.
After some time apart, De La reunited with Prince Paul for this fun, radio-friendly, jam that featured a perfectly off-kilter Redman on the hook.
10. “Held Down”
Pos’ solo excursion from the underappreciated Bionix is as thoughtful and progressive as his more well-known verses. Preternaturally talented at seeing the big picture and his place in it, lines like “And I been blessed to reign supreme over nearly every dream/I had, and I made it come true/’m an imperfect man and I’m holdin the clue to perfection/It doesn’t seem to matter what direction I look/I find people setting traps/Tryin to find the goal without having any maps” are what make him one of the most underrated emcees in Hip-Hop history.