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De La Soul: Our Life in 15 Songs

In one of Trugoy the Dove’s final interviews, the two MCs at the heart of the group talk about the stories behind their iconic catalog

Last month, toward the end of a lively, hour-long conversation with rappers Pos and Dave — the idiosyncratic duo at the heart of De La Soul, together with DJ Maseo — we delivered two requests on behalf of their loyal fan base. One: that they record a reunion album with Prince Paul, producer of the group’s first three groundbreaking classics from the late ’80s and early ’90s (3 Feet High and Rising, De La Soul Is Dead, Buhloone Mindstate). Two: that they finally record an album with the Native Tongues, the loosely-knit rap collective with an Afrocentrist aesthetic that counted De La Soul as one of its core acts alongside the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, and others.

“You asking for a lot!” Pos responded, with a riotous laugh.

Less than three weeks later, Dave — also known as Trugoy the Dove, or the Plug Two to Pos’ Plug One — was gone at the age of 54. His sudden death, from causes not immediately revealed (though he previously struggled with congestive heart failure), adds a bittersweet tinge to what was otherwise a celebratory interview. While we now know those fan fantasies won’t ever be fulfilled, the songs that De La Soul made live on, their words and music as essential as ever.

First collaborating as teenagers at Amityville Memorial High School in suburban Long Island, Kelvin Mercer, Dave Jolicoeur, and Vincent Mason delivered something altogether innovative in the springtime of 1988 with the “new style of speak” on their debut single as De La Soul, “Plug Tunin’.” Transformed into Posdnuos, Trugoy, and Maseo, their unorthodox lyricism (“Different in style is definite/And style which I flaunt is sure legit”) and B-boy bohemian bravura heralded a new wave of hip-hop that stood apart from N.W.A’s gangsta tropes, Public Enemy’s political polemics, and the supercool poses of Big Daddy Kane.

Wholly original for its time, 1989’s 3 Feet High and Rising carved space for the blerds and bohos of hip-hop culture, with an eclectic sample-collaging sound laying claim to everything from Hall & Oates to Funkadelic to Schoolhouse Rock, a French-language instruction record placed alongside a comical orgy on wax. Sketch comedy skits stitched together an album containing an enormous 24 tracks (unprecedented for rap albums back then), launching a trend that would be imitated in years to come by Dr. Dre, the Notorious B.I.G., Kanye West, ad infinitum. The party continued on 1991’s De La Soul Is Dead, where the group laid waste to its own image as the hippies of hip-hop, and evolved along with changing times in the decades that followed. (Check the alternative adventurousness of 1993’s Buhloone Mindstate, the backpack-rap advocacy of 1996’s Stakes Is High, and the dad rap of 2004’s The Grind Date in particular.)

Sample-clearance complications, music publishing issues, and other legalities with pioneering rap label Tommy Boy Records meant that De La Soul’s discography went unavailable in the streaming era. This interview came together because that’s finally changing: On March 3, via an arrangement with Reservoir Records (owner of Tommy Boy master recordings as of 2021), the first six De La Soul albums become available on Apple Music, Spotify, and elsewhere for the first time. It’s a momentous occasion that offers countless listeners their first chance to have their minds opened by one of hip-hop’s most inventive, multi-layered catalogs.

Pos and Dave chose 15 songs to weave the history of De La Soul, from 3 Feet High and Rising to 2016’s And the Anonymous Nobody…

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