De La Soul’s debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, released in 1989, was a critical smash hit in Hip Hop. They quickly became prominent members of the Native Tongues Posse along with A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, Queen Latifah, the Jungle Brothers and others. The single “Me Myself and I” became a huge hit, further cementing the group’s popularity. However, the sixties pop group The Turtles sued De La Soul for using a sample from their 1969 hit “You Showed Me” for the interlude track “Transmitting Live from Mars”, despite the fact that The Turtles did not actually write the original song.
Lyrically, much of 3 Feet High and Rising focused on striving for peace and harmony — a message that was slowly fading from the rap community in the late 1980s. 3 Feet High and Rising also introduced De La Soul’s concept of the “D.A.I.S.Y. Age” (an acronym standing for “da inner sound, y’all”). As a result, audiences were quick to peg the members of De La Soul as hippies. This stereotype greatly agitated the group’s members, as they always envisioned their career as a constantly changing style; this frustration would influence their next recording sessions. In the press kit for 3 Feet High and Rising, the members explained their stage names: Trugoy when reversed spells yogurt, because he likes yogurt, and Posdnuos spelled backwards is “sound sop”. The album artwork was designed by radical British artist collective the Grey Organisation.
De La Soul’s second album, De La Soul Is Dead (1991) was a much more mature album. It featured a wealth of material that criticized the violent, careless direction that Hip Hop was heading in at the time, though it still managed to maintain a light, absurd sense of humor. The cover of the album features a broken daisy flower pot, symbolizing the death of the “D.A.I.S.Y. Age” and the imagery that went along with it. The album spawned several singles, including the dark “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa”, a tale of a young girl who could no longer take the sexual abuse from her father, and the lead single “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)”. It also featured Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest on “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays'”, and Prince Paul makes an appearance on the mic in “Pass the Plugs” with a verse of his own. The album also more prominently featured Maseo as a rapper, providing verses of his own on “Bitties in the BK Lounge,” “Afro Connections at a Hi-5,” and “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)”.
Though it received mixed reviews and did not sell as well as 3 Feet High and Rising it eventually became a cult classic. The Source magazine listed the album as one of their top 100 Hip Hop albums of all time, stating that “its true genius is rarely understood”. There are several major differences between the CD version of this album and the other formats, as the tracks “Johnny’s Dead AKA Vincent Mason”, “My Brother’s a Basehead”, “Kicked Out the House”, and “Who Do U Worship?” are only available on the CD. The limited edition double vinyl promotional copies of the album distributed to the media before the official release did not feature these.
The group’s third studio release, 1993’s Buhloone Mindstate, saw the group evolve a new sound as they continued to grow stylistically and musically. There were several moments on the album which proved the band had matured. “I Be Blowin'” was a departure as the track was an instrumental featuring saxophone playing by Maceo Parker. The introspective “I Am I Be” showed De La Soul at their most self-referential to date with subject matter about Pos’ daughter Ayana Monet as well as his grandmother. “Long Island Wildin'” was a collaboration with Japanese Hip Hop artists Kan Takagi (Major Force) and trio Scha Dara Parr (SDP). The album’s first single, “Breakadawn”, used a sample of Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It” and Smokey Robinson’s “Quiet Storm”. De La Soul collaborated for the first time with Gang Starr’s Guru on “Patti Dooke”, female MC Shortie No Mas, a cousin of Posdnuos, was prominent on many tracks on the album, showcased particularly “In The Woods”. The album ended with an old school Biz Markie collaboration called “Stone Age”. Missing from vocal duties is Mase, whose voice can only be heard on “Area” in a break near the end of the track. Also rarely featured is his scratching which was heard often on previous albums, with only “In the Woods” showcasing his talent in that area. The album was a critical success, but it was the biggest commercial failure for the group at the time of its release. Many publications, such as Rolling Stone, have listed this album as one of the best Hip Hop albums of all time.
In 1994, 500 copies of a promotional EP called Clear Lake Audiotorium were released on clear vinyl and CD. The 6 track EP contained edited versions of tracks off of Buhloone Mindstate but also featured the tracks “Sh.Fe.MC’s” (Shocking Female MC’s) which was a collaboration with A Tribe Called Quest, and Stix & Stonz which featured old-school Hip Hop artists Grandmaster Caz, Tito of Fearless Four, Whipper Whip, LA Sunshine and Superstar. The EP was widely bootlegged afterwards.
Stakes Is High (1996) was the first album not produced by Prince Paul, with overall production credits given solely to the trio. Although it was met with poor sales, it has been critically lauded for its music, lyricism, and its overall message concerning the artistic decline rap music began to face in the mid-90s. The title track and first single, produced by J Dilla, was not a hit, but the album’s second single, “Itzsoweezee (HOT)”, with only Dave on vocals, did fare better due to its creative music video. The album spawned a third single “4 More”, featuring Zhane which peaked at #52 in the UK. The album did provide a launching pad for future star rapper and actor Mos Def, who appeared on the track “Big Brother Beat”. The album also featured collaborations with Common, Truth Enola, and the Jazzyfatnastees.
Four years later, De La Soul announced that they would release a triple album series entitled “Art Official Intelligence” (or AOI). All three albums were intended to be released within a year, beginning with the release of Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump. This was followed by AOI: Bionix in late 2001. After this, however, the third and final album in the AOI series was never released. For the next two years, the only De La Soul releases were singles or remix compilations. David Jude Jolicoeur stated in an interview that it usually takes about four years for the group to record an album, promote it with advertisements, touring and so on. The group was having trouble finishing the last AOI installment for many reasons, one of which being an ongoing struggle with Tommy Boy Records, which had been releasing its albums ever since its debut.
In the summer of 2002, De La Soul toured with Cake, Modest Mouse, The Flaming Lips, Kinky, and the Hackensaw Boys during the Unlimited Sunshine Tour. The band was briefly featured in the video game PaRappa the Rapper 2 with the song “Say “I Gotta Believe!””, featuring Double, and also appeared on the soundtrack of the game.
In 2004, De La Soul released a new full album: The Grind Date on Sanctuary/BMG Records because the venture between Tommy Boy and Warner Bros. Records was shut down and the group’s contract was shopped to the other WEA labels. The band thought about having its contract absorbed by Elektra Records, but it decided to leave WEA altogether. Although it was not the third AOI album fans had been expecting, the album was released to some critical acclaim and was well received by most fans. The album features guests MF Doom, Ghostface Killah, Butta Verses and Flavor Flav, with production from 9th Wonder, Jake One, Madlib and more. The lead single “Shopping Bags (She Got from You)” did not fare very well and set the tone for disappointing commercial acceptance. In conjunction with the album’s release, the group also offered up the track “Come on Down” featuring Flavor Flav for remixing on Sony’s Acid Planet website. The winning remix was “Come On Down (KY Raised NY Glazed)” by Interlude Jones who said he tried to “take the influential sound of old New York Hip Hop and marry it back to its roots.”
In 2005, De La Soul collaborated with Gorillaz on the hit single “Feel Good Inc.,” which won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Collaboration (the first Grammy win in the group’s career) after being nominated for a total of three Grammys. De La Soul also appeared on the LA Symphony single “Universal” and Posdnuos collaborated with the Portuguese MC Boss AC on a track called “Yo (Não Brinques Com Esta Merda)” (which translates to “Don’t Play with This Shit”).
In 2006, De La Soul released a mixtape of new and old songs titled Hip Hop Mixtape. This album was covermount into British dance magazine Mixmag. The same year, De La Soul released another mixtape of new and old songs, this time titled The Impossible: Mission TV Series – Pt. 1 on its AOI Records label. De La Soul collaborated with the athletic sneaker giant Nike to produce two versions of the Nike Dunk under their skateboarding division, Nike SB. The sneakers were an instant hit and sold out at most retail stores.
In 2008, the group joined A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, The Pharcyde and others on the annual Rock the Bells tour. De La Soul were honorees at the 5th Annual VH1 Hip Hop Honors on October 6, 2008. In late 2008 the group collaborated with dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip and re-recorded its debut single “Thou Shalt Always Kill.”
De La Soul returned as a guest on the third Gorillaz studio album, Plastic Beach alongside Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys on the song “Superfast Jellyfish”. They were supposed to appear on a track entitled “Sloped Tropics”, though this song did not make the final cut. They co-wrote the song “Electric Shock”, which features Derby-based Orchestra sinfonia ViVA. This song does not appear on the album either, although certain elements are featured in the Gorilaz’ track “Rhinestone Eyes”. Gorillaz’ frontman Damon Albarn played the song when he filled in for Zane Lowe on BBC Radio 1.
In 2010, De La Soul remixed indie rockers Yo La Tengo’s single, “Here To Fall for the Here To Fall” remixes EP which included remixes by RJD2 and Pete Rock.
In 2011, the group earned Top 5 rankings on both NPR and Soul Train’s year end “Best of” lists with the Amerigo Gazaway produced De La Soul/Fela Kuti mashup, Fela Soul.
De La Soul and Nike released Are You In?: Nike+ Original Run, which was the group’s first original material since The Impossible: Mission TV Series – Pt. 1. The album features Raheem DeVaughn as well as production from the Chicago-based duo Flosstradamus. The recording is a single-track recording at 44 minutes, 17 seconds and was made available exclusively through iTunes. It is part of a continuing series of releases through the “Nike+ Sport Music” section of the online store. Are You In? was scheduled for release on 28 April 2009, but was not immediately available due to technical issues. Group member Posdnuos said to ClashMusic.com of Are You In?, “It had to feel like a De La album that wasn’t just a poster for Nike – we wanted people to feel it was a great album on its own terms. We always think things through and put quality into anything we do – we never look to just take the cheque and run.”
On April 2, 2012, the group released De La Soul’s Plug 1 & Plug 2 presents… First Serve with very little promotion, the album was released to positive reviews. The album was released without Plug 3, Maseo.
De La Soul have confirmed that they are again collaborating with Prince Paul and have “a lot” of music on the way, including the tentatively named eighth album, You’re Welcome. In March 2012, they reported that Maseo was working on beats for two new albums, one sample based, and one with a thirteen piece band.
De La Soul have recently released Get Away ft The Spirit of Wu which is a musical attack on the formulaic creation of contemporary Hip Hop. The track is the first of a series De La Soul will release as part of their release one track per month in 2013.
In March 2015, De La Soul created a Kickstarter to help fund their upcoming album. It surpassed the original goal of $110,000 in under ten hours. and the Anonymous Nobody…, De La Soul’s ninth full-length album,was released on August 26, 2016, on A.O.I. Records.
Official site: De La Soul