By the early 1990s, hip-hop’s “golden age” had essentially dissolved into two totally different genres. The first — unfortunately more popular — genre was dubbed “Gangsta Rap.” Gangsta Rap formed out of the lyrical themes of rappers like KRS-One, who rapped exclusively about the gritty side of street life. The other genre never had a specific title. Some called it “Alternative Hip-Hop” and others called it “Conscious Hip-Hop.” One of the original leaders in the conscious hip-hop movement was a group by the name of De La Soul.
De La Soul is made up of three rappers: David “Dave” Jolicoeur, Vincent “Maseo” Mason and Kelvin “Posdnous” Mercer. The trio released their first and most successful album to date in 1989 under the title “3 Feet High and Rising.” With songs like “Eye Know,” many viewed the group as “hippies.” This perception was generally disliked by the group, but by using terms like “D.A.I.S.Y. Age,” which is an acronym for “Da Inner Sound, Y’all,” and having drawings of ‘60s-esque flowers on their album, who could blame listeners for pegging them as members of the counterculture?
De La Soul was one of the founding members of a group of conscious rappers known as “Native Tongues.” Known for their conscious themes and upbeat tempos, Native Tongues featured fellow hip-hop groups A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers.
Their sophomore effort, “De La Soul Is Dead,” was released two years later in 1991. In this album, the group tried to lose the hippie label and at the same time avoid the hardcore side of rap. The album has an overall darker tone with songs like “My Brother’s A Basehead,” which has a theme of drug-use. At the same time, the album pokes fun at the gangsta rap movement with the song “Afro Connection At A Hi 5.”
Their third record, “Stakes is High,” was released in 1996 and was their first release without the assistance of their usual producer, Prince Paul. The album was also a contributing factor in getting fellow conscious rapper, Mos Def — now Yasiin Bey — his start.
De La Soul’s background music draws heavily from a jazz influence. The beats have a slow tempo with an upbeat feel. Their lyrics generally display a positive message, never condoning immoral behavior. Along with most conscious hip-hop artists, De La Soul drew inspiration from Afrocentric themes. With all of these elements combined in a highly intellectual vocabulary, De La Soul produced rhymes like, “Focus is formed by flaunts to the soul / Souls who flaunt styles gain praises by pounds / Common are speakers who are never scrolls / Scrolls written daily creates a new sound / Listeners listen ‘cause this here is wisdom / Wisdom of a speaker, a dove and a plug / Set aside a legal substance to feed ‘em / For now get ‘em high off this dialect drug.”
Since De La Soul’s formation in the late ’80s, they have released a total of eight studio albums. The group released their most recent album, “First Serve,” Oct. 5 of this year. The release is still considered to be a De La Soul record, even though the album didn’t involve group member Maseo and is the group’s first record in eight years. The album itself is a concept record about an aspiring rap duo that calls itself First Serve.
Considered one of the most innovative rap groups, they have worked with a number of other premier hip-hop artists including A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Gorillaz and Common.