“Arsenio dissed us but the crowd kept clappin’…”
In the late ’80s four crazy kids came out of the suburbs of Long Island and released an album which changed hip-hop, championing youthfulness, positivity, and oddball fun. They were De La Soul. The trio of Posdnous, Trugoy the Dove, and P.A. Pacemaster Mase (or just Mase), along with their wunderkind producer Prince Paul, were simply having fun on the mic, and their 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, became one of the most acclaimed records of the year for its spontaneity and creativeness. It remains as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.
So, all’s well that ends well, right? Well…not quite.
3 Feet High was an instant surprise success for De La, but it wasn’t all good in their world. While the group was heralded as the future of hip-hop, their whimsical style and celebration of the “Daisy” (short for Da Inner Sound, Y’all), soon had the group typecast as hippies. The label stuck, and in interviews, publicity shoots, and shows De La couldn’t escape the association that they were free-loving peaceniks, even though they made it clear they weren’t, going as far to call it “plug bull” on their breakout hit. Hell, when introduced on The Arsenio Hall Show, one of the hippest late night TV shows of the day, Arsenio called ’em the “hippies of hip-hop.” Talk about throwing salt in the wound.
De La came to resent their public image and the trappings of success and soon began to joke that De La Soul was…dead. They took the inside joke one step further, and decided to use it for the name and concept of their next record.
De La Soul is Dead is the yin to 3 Feet High‘s yang. It’s a doozy of a record, as the group airs out their frustrations with success, their fans, and the state of hip-hop in the early ’90s. A concept record, De La Soul is Dead features a kid named Jeff (hey, it’s me), who finds a De La tape in the trash. Right when he’s about to listen to it, some bullies show up, beat up Jeff (aw), and steal the tape. They decide to give it a listen, and throughout the record are numerous skits as the bullies trash the album’s songs, and ultimately throw the record back in the dumpster. It’s like the group took a moment to diss themselves before listeners could do it for them.
Those songs though? Darker, much less whimsical, and with a hint of bitterness, but still retaining the surreal humor and eclectic sampling seen on the first record. This time around the group was lamenting basehead brothers, insulting Burger King attendants, ducking wannabes with demos, and more. De La Soul is Dead is packed to the brim with inside jokes, random asides, and caustic oddity, but also solid rhyming from Pos and Trugoy and truly excellent production from the group and Prince Paul. As hostile as it is, it’s still a brilliant piece of work.
Released in the summer of 1991, De La Soul is Dead polarized listeners, causing many fairweather fans to take off. While receiving mixed reviews and diminished sales from their debut on release, the record has grown in stature over the years. For me, the record stands tall as one of my all-time favorite albums for just how complex, conflicted, and strange it is.
“Pease Porridge” is a fine example of the album’s brilliance. While De La was touring for the first album, Prince Paul, who was back in NY, would get word that the trio were getting into fights on the road. Thinking De La were hippies, people would step to them and get knocked out. Yeah. De La Soul was beating people down coast to coast! And this track shares a bit about that, as the group takes some time out to mention that while they try to be peaceful, they aren’t afraid to fight. Man, what a departure from the first album! And that moment where the “announcers” spectate a fight over a sample of a children’s record? This one is out there. I love it.