De La Soul’s music finally being released for digital streaming gives a second chance at life to a golden-age Hip Hop era.
The Long Island-New York trio of Posdnuos, Maseo, and Trugoy the Dove, formed in high school. They started making mixtapes and caught the ear of producer Prince Paul. The group partnered with Paul to develop an alternative Hip Hop sound of Afrocentric rhymes and jazzy beats that planted the seeds of a movement. The song “Me, Myself, and I” wasn’t just a hit record from De La Soul’s 1989 debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, it was a wake-up call.
The danceable chorus looped a sample from 1979’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep” by Funkadelic. The music video humorously shows the group in high school dressed like hippies with buzzsaw high-top fades and bright flower shirts. Their classmates, dressed in black jumpsuits and gold chains—the quintessential late 80s Hip Hop attire—stare at De La Soul like they’re some proud aliens. There’s a strong sense of individualism when Dove raps, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall / Tell me, mirror, what is wrong? / Can it be my De La clothes, / or is it just my De La Soul?”
The 3 Feet album also included “Buddy”, a posse cut that featured their fellow Native Tongues, a Hip Hop collective comprised of Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest, Monie Love, and Jungle Brothers. De La Soul named their unique style of peace and love rap the D.A.I.S.Y. age (which stood for Da Inner Sound, Ya’ll), creating an alternative lane for fans who didn’t fit into the B-Boy club.
From the beginning of the 1990s and beyond, De La Soul released a run of albums that represented witty rhymes with a progressive musical sound. The sophomore album De La Soul Is Dead is a five-mic Source Magazine-rated classic with feel-good cookout records such as “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays.’” The same album included “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa/Keepin’ the Faith” which tells a devasting story of a young girl whose father is sexually assaulting her. De La Soul continued the middle path between N.W.A.’s gangsta rap and Public Enemy’s political stance without leaning too far on either side.
The release of albums Buhloone Mindstate and Stakes Is High continued to showcase the MC chemistry between Pos and Dove as their rhyming in sync sounded as one voice. However, outside the Hip Hop world, other musicians took offense to groups like De La Soul who sampled from different musical genres. The cost of making classic Hip Hop records from sampling would create decades of legal friction.
De La Soul’s innovative sound of electric jazz beats was beloved by their fans but hated by the owners of the songs they sampled. In 1991 the group was sued by the rock band The Turtles, which was the beginning of a series events that would not work in the group’s favor. In 2002 Tommy Boy, De La Soul’s label, sold their entire catalog to Warner Music who did not want to clear any of the samples, effectively holding De La Soul’s music hostage from future streaming services for decades. Besides giving away downloads from their album for free in 2014, De La had to rely on touring to receive income from their past work.
Things were not looking good until 2017 when Tommy Boy founder Tom Silverman repurchased the label from Warner Music. Then in 2021, the company was sold to Reservoir Media who revisited De La Soul’s original deal and cleared samples for digital streaming for the group’s first six albums. Unfortunately, the excitement around De La Soul’s music becoming digital was short lived. Not long after the streaming announcement, the passing of the group’s front man, Dove, made the news. Making an historical musical moment bittersweet for family, friends, and fans alike.
For years, De La Soul’s existence was in the hands of the group’s live shows which were primarily supported by Gen Xers and older millennials. Now, with their albums becoming available on digital, it opens a chance for younger generations to experience the group—and their influence on artists such as Kanye West, Tyler the Creator, and ODD Future.
The legacy of De La Soul is good-hearted lyricism, signature beats, and the upholding of a Hip Hop golden rule: Be Yourself.