De La Soul – “I Am, I Be”

“I guess we got our own life to live, or is it because we want our own kingdom to rule?”

De La Soul came with one of hip-hop’s most unique and revered debut albums ever, and then followed it up with a scathing, demented, scowl of an album which rebuked their fairweather fans and upended everyone’s ideas of them, so where did it leave them for album #3?

In 1993, West Coast G-Funk reigned, the rugged and rough mentality was in full effect, and hip-hop was huge. The whole Afrocentric, lighthearted hip-hop of the past was long gone, and many listeners just weren’t checking for a group like De La. But they still had a lot to say.

Released in the fall of ’93, Buhloone Mindstate is a masterstroke, a transitional work after two hilariously weird records. It’s subdued, composed, and strikingly mature in sound and scope. No random off-the-wall asides or ridiculous, Prince Paul-blessed skits. Emcees Posdnous and Trugoy were far more concerned about weightier topics such as kids, the state of hip-hop and their place in it, former friends, and more. Simply put, it was grown folks stuff, and they approached it with candor and a weighty sense of reality. The whimsy seen on 3 Feet High was long gone by now.

Mindstate remains as one of De La’s strongest and most underrated works, capturing the group at a unique moment in their career and their lives. The record would also mark their direction for the future, as their producer and mentor, Prince Paul, amicably split from the group after the album’s release due to creative differences. It’s a record that in my 20s I vibed with but couldn’t quite get into, but in my 30s it feels a lot more relevant. I understand now.

“I Am, I Be” is one of Mindstate‘s most poignant moments, as Pos and Trugoy rhyme about life over a mellowed, jazzy, and beautiful instrumental. Pos’s opening verse is supreme, as he speaks on the passing of his mother, the birth of his daughter, the exploitative rap game, and even commenting on the widening gulf between members of the Native Tongues collective. It’s some of the finest rhyming he’s ever done, and some of the very best you’ll hear in rap. The whole song, and that particular line up there from Pos, really speaks to me as I spend each day navigating adulthood.

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