De La Soul

De La Soul Biography

Few rap groups have proved to be as enduring or challenging as De La Soul. From self-appointed purveyors of the D.A.I.S.Y. (DA Inner Sound Y'all) Age to creators of an art official intelligence, the trio — Posdnous, Dave, and Maseo — has made music that continues to amuse and inspire hip-hoppers around the world.

The group consists of former residents of New York City who moved to Amityville, N.Y., (on Long Island) while still children. Kelvin Mercer and David Jolicouer had known each other since the early '80s, and while attending Amityville High School, they became friends with Vincent "Maceo" Mason, who moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., when he was 15. "Pos, his father would listen to old jazz and stuff like that," Dave, who had since renamed himself Trugoy ("yogurt" spelled backwards), told David Toop in Rap Attack 2. "My mother and father would listen to a lot of reggae and calypso, and Mase's mother listened to a lot of R&B."

The teenagers bounced around in various crews before forming as De La Soul in 1985. Later, Mason — who now called himself Pasemaster Mase — met a local DJ, "Prince" Paul Houston of the rap group Stetsasonic (best known for the singles "Sally" and "Talkin' All That Jazz"), who began mentoring the teenagers. His influence helped foment their penchant for musical eclecticism and secured them a deal with Stetsasonic's label, Tommy Boy. The results of their experiments, "Plug Tunin'," became an underground smash after its 1988 release.

While promoting the single, the threesome became friends with the Jungle Brothers, an Afrocentric group from Manhattan, N.Y., and the two groups began working together. "On their first album, they didn't even know how to loop [samples]," said Mercer — who now went by Posdnous — in The Vibe History of Hip-Hop. "We taught them so many things — we vibed so well." The two groups, along with another young MC, Q-Tip, formed the collective Native Tongues to commemorate their soon-to-be revolutionary brand of black pride. "The language wasn't 'posse' or 'crew,' it was 'tribe,'" said Posdnous.

In spring 1989, De La Soul released its first album, 3 Feet High and Rising. It proved to be a classic, introducing an idiosyncratic language and an innovative spin on the musical skit. "We're bringing the D.A.I.S.Y. Age," Posdnous said in Rap Attack 2. "The inner sound, y'all. Everything is coming from within us. It's time to pull down that front, trying to be like somebody else. You come out with what's inside you."

3 Feet High and Rising entered the Billboard Top 40 several weeks after its release, as did the album's second single, "Me, Myself, and I." It eventually went platinum, while the single went gold, also earning the group a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance.

Critics hailed the group as a refreshing alternative to a perceived glut of machismo in rap and pegged them as "hippie rappers," thanks to their dancers, China and Jette, who liked to toss flowers from the stage during concerts. Meanwhile, young people across the world began mimicking their style of dress — baggy pants, hiking boots, and multi-colored shirts, topped off by black medallions and eccentrically cut flattops. Along with the Jungle Brothers, De La Soul exerted an immediate musical influence on other rap groups, most notably fellow Native Tongues members A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, and Monie Love. Memorably, the entire Native Tongues appeared on De La Soul's remix of their "Buddy" single, as well as on the Jungle Brothers' "Doin' Our Own Thing."

But the rush of success confused the group members, who saw their formerly fun and original ideas coopted for commercial reasons. "One hundred percent of the people listening to De La Soul were really attached to the image and not to what we were trying to say," Posdnous told Rolling Stone in 1991. To make matters worse, the Turtles sued the group after hearing one of their hits, "You Showed Me," sampled on De La's "Transmitting Live From Mars." The case was eventually settled out of court.

In response to all this, De La Soul recorded its second album, De La Soul Is Dead, a whimsical death knell to the image they had created. "We didn't want to be pinned down to a visual look," said Pos. "So we thought, 'This whole daisy thing has to die.'" De La Soul Is Dead featured the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, and newcomers Black Sheep; it eventually went gold on the strength of the singles "Ring Ring Hey Hey" and "A Roller Skating Jam Called Saturdays."

De La Soul Is Dead's eccentricities were an ominous sign for the group, and by the time it released Buhloone Mindstate in 1993, the audience had shrunk to a legion of devoted fans. Nevertheless, the album was a critical success, featuring guest stars such as Gangstarr's Guru, Biz Markie and Maceo Parker, and others. But it also signaled a falling out with former friends the Jungle Brothers. "Tongues who lied/ And said we'd be natives to the end/ Nowadays we don't even speak," rapped Posdnous on "I Am I Be."

The two groups eventually reconciled, and De La Soul marked the occasion with an appearance on the Jungle Brothers' 1996 single "How You Want It." "The Native Tongues have been officially reinstated," Posdnous confirmed on the title track to De La's 1996 album, Stakes Is High. It was an album that found the group maturing into elder statesmen and recording with younger stars Mos Def and Common, MCs whose mix of thoughtful, socially aware lyrics and metaphorically rich braggadocio recalled De La in its earlier years. "To be here today and confidently say we're pioneers," Mason — now simply known as Maseo — told URB, "it definitely feels good."

But five years would pass before De La Soul released its fifth album, the first of an ambitious three-disc series titled Art Official Intelligence. The first installment, Mosaic Thump, was released in August 2000 and featured guest shouts from Chaka Khan, the Beastie Boys, Busta Rhymes, and Redman, among others. The group hopes to release the next two installments in 2001; other guests they hope will appear include Sade, Sinéad O'Connor, and Drew Barrymore.

De La Soul Bio from Discogs

Formed in 1987, Long Island, NY, United States.

Individual aliases:

Dave Jolicoeur AKA Trugoy The Dove / Plug Two / Plug 2

Kelvin Mercer AKA Posdnuos / Plug Won / Plug 1

Vincent Mason AKA Pasemaster Mase / Maseo / Plug Three

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