The transgressive work of De La Soul

The transgressive work of De La Soul

In loving memory of David Jolicoeur

R.I.P. Trugoy The Dove

David Jolicoeur, Trugoy The Dove, Dave, Plug 2, whatever name you know him by, this artist tragically passed away this Sunday February 12th at the age of 54 leaving behind family, friends and fans. Dave was known as Plug 2 of the legendary group De La Soul, along with Posdnuos a.k.a. Plug 1, and DJ Maseo.

The passing of an artist affects us all differently, depending on how much we care about their music. I speak here in the words of a fan, I can’t put myself in the place of his relatives to understand what they can feel. As a fan of De La Soul, the disappearance of Trugoy The Dove is probably one of the artist’s disappearance that affected me the most since a long time, probably since Nate Dogg, even MF Doom had not saddened me so much.

But despite his sad passing, we still have his legacy, the legacy he left with his musical work alongside Posdnuos and Maseo in De La Soul. One of the few groups in Hip Hop that never split up, while never having made a solo album, always united for the music over the years. The years and decades have passed, and De La Soul has always been present, crossing generations.

With De La Soul, Dave left us no less than 9 studio albums, some of which are true classics and helped lay the foundation for Golden Age Hip Hop. Others may be less memorable, but none of them are not worth listening to at least.

De La Soul’s disruptive work

As a member of the Natives Tongues, De La Soul laid the foundations for a new Hip Hop, a positive and cheerful Hip Hop with a Hippie philosophy. De La Soul has constantly reinvented himself throughout his albums, not to blend in with the style of the time, not to stay absolutely in the trend, but on the contrary always in a well determined and well defined artistic approach, and very often against the trend. In this sense, De La Soul’s discography is extremely rich, so much so that fans of the band rarely agree on their best album. The first one, 3 Feet High and Rising, obviously defined the musical identity of the group for its joyful side and its Hippie philosophy, but others will only swear by the cynicism of De La Soul Is Dead, by the Jazz of Bulhoone Mindstate, by the maturity of Stakes Is High or the modernity of The Grind Date. Each album has its own universe, its atmosphere, its philosophy always with a recognizable style.

If the musicality and the philosophy of De La Soul made the identity and the style of the group, we tend to reduce them to that. But De La Soul is also a talented DJ and two great rappers, with thoughtful lyrics full of meaning, clever wordplay and double entendres. One forgets the qualities of the two rappers, which seem at first sight to be erased behind a very rich sampling work, a very developed creativity, an atypical philosophy in the Hip Hop and a very accomplished artistic research. But the beauty of De La Soul’s work also lies in the subtle lyrics and in a pure emceeing, in its original definition of the term, they are true entertainers that should not be underestimated. They may not be the most impressive, but they know how to show an excellent versatility with smooth, calm and catchy flows on tones that oscillate between serious, funny, playful or philosophical. 

Let’s keep the positivity the group has always conveyed. De La Soul is not dead, if we have lost one of its members, the legacy remains and it is our role not to forget, to make known and listen to the exceptional work that this trio has left us. In these sad moments, it is important to return on the contribution of this iconic group in the Hip Hop and music. 

We will look back at the discography of this group. The goal is not to describe in detail each of the albums, but rather to present a brief overview of each of them to understand the musical work of the group as a whole. It is up to everyone to dig in and make their own opinion of the albums. And we will come back in more detail on this site on the albums with dedicated articles.

3 Feet High and Rising

Produced by Prince Paul, 3 Feet marks the beginning of De La Soul and especially the great beginning of the Daisy Age. The album is full of good humor and childlike joy while dealing with societal issues in a very subtle way. The trio is full of humor with a falsely candid air, which makes them an almost hippie group.

3 Feet is truly unique in the Hip Hop landscape of the time, it breaks the usual codes of rap and the very image of the rapper to make it something more playful. An album that is as inventive as it is transgressive for Hip Hop.

De La Soul Is Dead

With this album, De La Soul will reject the Daisy Age while announcing the death of the group, with this title and this highly symbolic cover. Still produced by Prince Paul, De La Soul will be much more inclined to depression, cynicism and despair, the candid humor gives way to sarcasm and black humor. All things considered, it’s still De La Soul. The trio of rappers and their producer continue once again to transgress Hip Hop in a new way while renewing themselves.

Bulhoone Mind State

Buhloone Mindstate is De La Soul’s jazz-rap masterpiece. If the previous albums integrated a lot of samples of Jazz, among others, here it is the jazzmen who come to play their instruments with notably Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley or Pee Wee Ellis.  The album is identified in a dormant and dreamy jazzy atmosphere, of a flat calm while being bewitching. De La Soul returns slightly to the positivity of 3 Feet but with something finally much more mature and introspective, much less candid. The trio continues to experiment musically. If Bulhoone is not the most appreciated, it remains cruelly underestimated, and far too forgotten.

Stakes Is High

Stakes Is High is the first album of De La Soul that is not entirely produced by Prince Paul, the group having considered that the beatmaker’s productions didn’t reflect enough the msuciality they wanted to give to the album. This album is especially the darkest of their discography with a soulful tendency, while being the most conscious and engaged, finally very different from the previous ones. If there was a form of consciousness, here the trio will adopt a much more direct approach with serious themes, including a criticism of gangsta rap and the excessive commercialization of Hip Hop. De La Soul’s criticisms predicted a very near future, a less pure and more ostentatious Hip Hop, while laying the foundations of a movement, the Soulquarians, in which they themselves did not really take part.

Art Official Intelligence

AOI was originally supposed to be a trilogy, but only two productions were released: Mosaic Thump and Bionix. After the commercial failure of Stakes Is High, Mosaic Thump will allow the band to be successful again, with notably the titles Oooh and All Good?. The albums lose slightly the soul of De La and try more or less to surf on the wave of the Hip Hop of the time, the trio will be less relaxed than usually but with a message always relevant. The albums feature more sung choruses and a sound that is relatively up to date. AOI aren’t the most inventive in their catalog, but still remain sophisticated and common sense, mature rap for adults. The trio’s legendary creativity isn’t at its peak here, but it’s still good stuff.

The Grind Date

The album was originally meant to be the third opus of the AOI trilogy before being rethought as a separate project, and that’s a good thing. The Grind Date takes the very soul of De La Soul but more modern while keeping an Old School touch, showing the trio’s reluctance to the evolution of Hip Hop.  We find the creativity of the group with their usual casualness and vivacity, on rhythms both raw with a hint of Soul well brought produced by an excellent cast that matches their sound footprint. The Grind Date has to be one of De La Soul’s most accessible albums today.

Plug 1 and Plug 2 Presents… First Serve

First Serve is De La’s first fundamentally conceptual album. The Plugs traces the career of a fictional character in the music industry from the 90s onwards, while citing De La as an inspiration. The album is actually a metaphor for the evolution of Hip Hop and the fate of many groups. De La offers a compelling narrative while reconnecting with their musical ambitions.

And the Anonymous Nobody

As on the previous album, De La reconnects with their musical identity, and makes music in their own image, without sounding like any other album of the group. De La finds its spirit of outsider which delights the fans. The musical eclecticism is there with a concept in which they sample themselves with sincere lyrics and skilful images.

De La Soul is a group that is rarely mentioned in the best groups of all time, yet the trio has always been able to be creative by constantly reinventing themselves over the course of their albums, all the while keeping a trademark. Very often against the trends of Hip Hop, De La Soul has constantly transgressed the Hip Hop and its codes until rejecting its image. A group that has an undeniable place in the pantheon of Hip Hop for its originality, creativity, disruption, and of course its exceptional talent.
In memory of David Jolicoeur, a.k.a. Dave a.k.a. Trugoy The Dove a.k.a. Plug 2

By Grégoire Zasa

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