Published Thu, March 2, 2023 at 1:30 AM EST
One of the most innovative, respected groups in Hip-Hop history, De La Soul helped reshape rap culture with their eccentric debut, 3 Feet High & Rising. And throughout the decades, from De La Soul Is Dead, Buhloone Mindsate, and Stakes Is High, to their later work including Art. Official. Intelligence: Mosaic Thump and AOI: Bionix, they proved that life's biggest wins come from simply being yourself, even if it means you walk a little to the left of what everyone else is doing.
With the first six albums in their long discography now available for streaming, it's a great time for a reminder about De La's eclectic greatness, and how much they truly helped cultivate a culture that helped so many people feel seen.
Black nerd culture has only become a term in recent years but in the late 80s, before it existed, there was De La Soul — serving as a beacon of light for smart, eclectic rap fans everywhere.
When De La Soul (Posdnous, Trugoy The Dove, and Maseo) arrived with their influential debut, 3 Feet High and Rising in 1989, rap was going through a transition of sorts. During a time when the genre was becoming edgier, and experimenting with street realism courtesy of acts like NWA, De La Soul, and their witty take on Hip-Hop, relationships, and just life, felt refreshing in a way that few artists ever manage. Right from the start, De La Soul pushed away conventional trends and wholly embraced their individuality. Their zany confidence, quirky cool, and clear-eyed perspective created an eclectic hodgepodge of sound and style that made them immediately relatable to an entire flock of fans. And their free-spirited approach to music resonated. De La made it feel good to be a little different, a little weird.
"Most rappers fit in with the same style which everyone else is doing and which audiences have accepted," Posdnuos told Melody Maker back in '89. "But a lot of them have therefore become trapped in their own image because once you start along a certain route it's hard to get off of it. A lot of rappers that I know are witty and funny, good guys, but once the lights come on they feel that they have to conform to 'cool.' We don't – what you hear on the album is how we are in real life. The craziness is a part of our actual personalities."
Their confidence translated into their videos. They were loose, funny, real, and just plain enjoyable.
"De La Soul has the best visuals of people having fun," Queen rapper Homeboy Sandman told ROCK THE BELLS. "'A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturday,' 'Itsoweezee,' 'Me, Myself and I'... these videos, it was fun-loving hip-hop."
Afrofuturism and The Art of Being Yourself
While De La Soul's sound wasn't explicitly Afrofuturistic, certainly some of their cover art was, beginning with their Art. Official. Intelligence. almost-trilogy, which launched in early 2000. De La embraced futuristic imagery and language at the turn of the millennium — look no further than their two albums Art. Official. Intelligence: Mosaic Thump and AOI: Bionix.
"We've been different ever since we were in school," Dave once explained. "We didn't dress like anyone else and we had our own language so nobody would know what we were talking about, so it was natural that we'd do different things with our music, too."
Always forward-leaning in their approach to strategy and sound, De La Soul has long been respected as one of the most innovative acts in Hip-Hop, a distinction that's well-deserved.