When De La Soul—one of the most influential, groundbreaking hip-hop acts of all time—announces that they are making their ENTIRE catalogue available for free via digital download (for a limited time), you don’t ask why. You quickly make your way to the goodness. At this point, De La has gone beyond cliché legendary status. The innovative Long Island trio of Kelvin “Posdnous” Mercer, David “Dave” Jolicoeur and Vincent “Maseo” Mason are now a larger-than-life institution that to this day is still keeping fans guessing.
From the foundational shakeup of their joyously loopy 1989 landmark debut 3 Feet High and Rising (Tommy Boy) to the grown man genius of 2004’s The Grind Date, the Native Tongue provocateurs still matter (be on the lookout for De La’s upcoming release later this year, You’re Welcome). In honor of De La Soul’s speechless offering, VIBE presents a mini Full Clip of sorts. Here is the group in their own words on some of their most important tracks over the years. Put up the peace sign, yall! —Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)
“Potholes In My Lawn” (Tommy Boy, 1988)
Dave: It was really rough, but once we brought Prince Paul into the picture he gave it an upgrade of a lifetime. To an extent Paul was a fourth member [of De La Soul]. He helped bring our ideas together; he took the silliness and directed it so it could become something. Like everyone else, our inspiration was Run-DMC. They were classic, but at the same time they were taking the music to place to new places. To see the image of Run, DMC, and Jam Master Jay maintained even when we didn’t care much for the music years later that spirit was real. Just the whole idea of two MC’s and DJ, that was important. They were it. We modeled ourselves around them. But we took that inspiration to new places.
Maseo: We came into the studio with “Potholes In My Lawn” and “Freedom of Speak” to include on a demo. “Potholes In My Lawn” ended up being our first single. Paul had good professional structure. He took charge, yet still gave us that freedom.
“Plug Tunin’” (Tommy Boy, 1988)
Maseo: We would do it off of The Honey Drippers’ “Impeach The President.” Somehow we started to make a conceptual song, but it really didn’t become much of anything until Pos found a sample.
Posdnous: In the beginning “Plug Tunin’” was really a routine. Being young, we were still taking a lot of lessons from groups like Cold Crush Brothers and Crash Crew. I had a 45 of a song called “Written On The Wall” by the Invitations. It was a doo-wop record and I had a little pause cassette thing and I paused it like, “Yo, this could be dope.” And funny enough, on the b-side of “Written On The Wall,” it said Plug Side. So that’s the only reason we titled it “Plug Tunin.’” I played it for Dave and he was like, Yo that can work! We ended up doing the whole thing on a Casio RZ-1.
“Me Myself and I” (Tommy Boy, 1988)
Dave: We hated the song [laughs]. But it’s the gift and the curse. We felt like there were so many other songs that were 100 times better than that. But you respect it for what it is. At the end of the day, people loved the song. And what more can you ask for? Although it was pretty much bullshit.
“Brainwashed Followers” (Tommy Boy, 1988)
Dave: This was part of our joking skits, but we appreciated that people got something out of it. Just being in the studio bored, the idea just came to throw this 11-year old kid on the track and let him talk shit about De La Soul. He was acting as the voice of the masses. We wanted to make sense of the fact that people were trying to box us in [as rap hippies early on in our careers].
“Pease Porridge” (Tommy Boy, 1991)
Maseo: That song stemmed from a lot of stuff we went through on LL Cool J’s Nitro tour. We all became family from us to Big Daddy Kane to Slick Rick to LL to NWA. It was a huge rap tour, but it wasn’t much security. So anytime we had a problem in a particular city like Detroit, it was intense. We were literally fighting for the right reasons; protecting one another and being treated unfairly especially at that time with us being the new act. De La Soul stood out based on the fact that we were known for love and peace.
Posdnous: We got kicked off the tour for fighting. So all this led to the intro of “Peas Porridge.” We also addressed an incident that happened at [a club] with some one hurting Baby Chris (Violator head Chris Lighty) and us just trying to help. But once again De La, A Tribe Called Quest and Jungle Brothers stood out. So it was us really just playing off of [our experiences].
“Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa” (Tommy Boy, 1991)
Posdnous: We were coming out of the train and we saw this homeless guy wearing a Santa Claus suit on. The title popped in my head. The subject matter came from someone close to me where she was getting abused by her father. So I thought, We can make this work. Prince Paul gave us a beat tape when we were on the road and the original instrumental demo of “Millie” was on it already. It was so melancholy and dark…..it all fit together.
“Breakadawn” (Tommy Boy, 1993)
Dave: There are times when Pos is going to love a record and I’m going to hate it and vice versa. I think when “Breakadawn” was chosen to be a single and the video it was just too much for a record. It sounded like we were going pop, which at that time was a no-no. There were so many other songs on Buhloone Mindstate that defined De La Soul’s sound and creativity. But when you are working with a machine that is trying to sell records, the right thing to do is to put “Breakadawn” out.
“Stakes Is High” (Tommy Boy, 1996)
Posdnous: It got back to us that Tupac was a little upset because the “Ego Trippin’” video reminded him of “I Get Around.” After “Stakes Is High” it was more his homeboys telling him that these dudes are dissing you. So he felt like he had to come at us. But it wasn’t really about Pac. It was about how we felt about the industry. It’s funny that we are talking about this because a year ago I ran into Pac’s sister. We were on the same flight together and she was like, “Yo, Pac really loved ya’ll dudes. He was just really hurt.”
Maseo: It’s funny how everyone is saying how hip-hop has become too materialistic and violent now. But we were saying it back then.
“All Good?” feat. Chaka Kahn (Tommy Boy Entertainment, 2000)
Maseo: That was the best studio session I’ve had in my whole career. She (Chaka) was so down to earth, so motherly. I had to run to the store to get her a fuzzy navel [laughs].
“Feel Good Inc.” Gorillaz feat. De La Soul (Virgin Records, 2005)
Dave: Come to find out Damon Albam was a fan of our music. In the beginning there was this you stay on this side of the [studio] and we will stay on that side. And then you bring in a big sack of weed and it just worked out [laughs]. That’s what it was all about…vibing and a big dump truck of weed.
“Big Mouf” (Nike, 2009)
Dave: For us a song like “Big Mouth” was a challenge in terms of putting together music for athletes, runners especially. It started off with saying something about Nike [laughs]. But eventually we got to the point where we were not trying to sell anything here.
Maseo: Since the days of Tommy Boy we’ve been unconventional. It’s a big part of who we are. It’s just transcending into business. This is fun. The idea that people at the Nike conglomerate enjoyed our music and that it played it part at what they’re doing it just made sense.
Posdnous: We’ve always had to go to outside ways to make sure people hear us. We never looked at this as something to do just because Def Jam wasn’t going to sign us. We always try to challenge ourselves.