Monday, September 18, 2006



Hip hop has always required some sort of gimmick, some form of exaggeration on reality:
the dookie-fat gold chains, capped teeth, the cars, the clothes, the cribs, the women. For Amityville's very own De La Soul, they carved their sound and image out of the bohemian, friendly sorts of the hippie age coining the "Daisy Age" on their groundbreaker 3 Feet High and Rising. The album was draped heavily in praise from critics and listeners as it offered an alternative to the heavy sounds of the Left Coast and the emerging rough, rugged and raw imagery of their East Coast counterparts. The sleeve boasted the gaudy colors of a black light painting--neons and juvenile sketches. However, two years after debuting (an entire career in the earlier Golden Age boom), the goofball gimmick had worn thin and De La was on the verge of disappearing into pop music oblivion. Yeah, believe it.

The second record is the most important record for establishing a career--it determines your path and how long it will be. Like Paul's Boutique, It Takes a Nation of Millions, and even The Marshall Mathers LP, the sophomore effort is almost always the pivotal point in the artist's career. For De La, it was especially difficult because they pigeon-holed themselves so deep in their persona when they originally broke. They needed to reinvent themselves. It was the appropriately titled De La Soul is Dead that would do the job.

Dead, with the obvious symbolism--a drab illustration of a turned-over and cracked pot of three dying daisies--was De La cleaning the slate and starting over. Knowing they would never fully cleanse themselves of their prior work, through skits, interludes and even a comic book, they dwell on denouncing it rather than ignoring it altogether and asking the listener to, as well.

The outcome is nothing short of a hip hop masterpiece--once again, for the second time in their career, raising the bar for hip hop--creatively, lyrically and musically. Dead finds producer Prince Paul at his absolute peak as he manages to, like in 3 Feet, take the listener on a dizzying musical ride of both juvenile hilarity with the poise of a hip hop veteran. His mastery of the boards and floor-up creation remain largely unmatched here 15 years later and Dead is still, to this date, his paramount.

Emcees Pos, Trugoy and Maseo blazed the trail on their first record but refined and refurbished it on Dead where they expanded on their previous unconventional, nursery-rhyme delivery and flow with the stutterspeak of "Pease Porridge" and the infinitely looping of "Oodles of O's." De La's ability, as exhibited so eloquently on Dead, to work on a concept within a song as well as between multiple songs is a talent hip hop has rarely seen--setting De La apart as the arguably the most conceptually-minded forces in the artform.

First time I heard Dead, I was floored. Speechless. I bought the used tape at Ralph's Records and Tapes on University back in the Hub. Once I popped it in my WalkMan, my life was over...and it had just begun. The experience of listening to it again reminds me of moments where I would interrupt my friends with headphones blaring in my hands begging them, "Yo, you gotta listen to this." Still largely, I'm one of few dudes that I know of that give this album a monthly (sometimes more often) listening. It's almost habitual not yet ritual.

De La continues on their path although they only remain relavant to older heads like myself. Tragically, when hip hop grew old, so did De La. There's still a close following--people who will recognize them checking into the La Quinta just before that night's show. Dead stands as a testament to their unequalled contribution to hip hop. It's a beautifully crafted and infinitely dope capsule of which I will always match albums. Again, it's habitual.

"Eh, it's no De La Soul is Dead."

And remember, if it weren't for Dead, De La would only be mentioned in the same conversation of PM Dawn, Kid N Play and Candyman. Recognize, folks. To deny the greatness of this album is to almost deny the existance of hip hop as a whole. You playin' yoself. Go to your local Hastings, special order it, buy it and listen to it until you go deaf. At least, you'll be able to say the last sounds you heard was the third best album in hip hop history according to j3.

Speaking of, I need a replacement because mine skips on the last 12 songs. Guess that's what you get with monthly listens. Play it til it plays no more.

Album Highlights:
"Oodles of O's"
"Pease Porridge"
"Bitties in the BK Lounge"
"Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa"
"Pass the Plugs"
"Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)"
"A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays'"

1 comment:

TX said...

No doubt one of the greatest ever. Not sure how it gets better. Has Tribe been on this countdown? Anxious to see what happens.