Still unavailable on streaming services, the second De La Soul albums nevertheless remains a high-water mark in hip-hop creativity
Considered a pinnacle concept album of the ‘90s, De La Soul is Dead was unlike any other record at the time. An intricate parody of a children’s storybook on tape read-along, it weaves together a story through a series of ongoing skits.
Unfortunately, the group’s sophomore album currently cannot be found on any streaming services, since the group’s former label retains control of its masters, but it still remains in the hearts and minds of hip-hop fans across the globe three decades later.
De La Soul sought to distance themselves from the mainstream after the commercial success of their debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, which was what helped inspire the album cover. The image of a potted plant that has been smashed open with three wilted daisies was their way of signifying the metaphorical “death” of the D.A.I.S.Y. age.
“You can’t say that. You cant say De La Soul is Dead,” Posdnuos (a.k.a. Plug One) said in an interview with Mass Appeal. “Just saying that is like planting this seed that you’re dead. Like you’re not worth what you are.”
The Long Island trio created the title as a goof. Spotting their tour dates listed on a dry-erase board in the office of their management company, Dave (a.k.a. Trugoy the Dove, Plug Two) wiped off the group’s dates and wrote: “De La Soul is Dead” as a joke.
Producer Prince Paul, who produced the group’s platinum-selling debut, said the record “is a little bitter in a lot of ways, especially if you compare it to the first one.” It was evidently more mature, catering more towards an alternative fanbase having experienced more of how the music industry operates.
The album also pokes fun at the group themselves through the story of a teenager, who happens to stumble across a De La Soul cassette in the trash. The young man is later attacked by a group of bullies who beat him up and steal the tape.
One of the main attractions of the album is the track, “Oodles of O’s,” a masterclass in rhyming and sampling, pulling its heavy stand-up bassline from the track “Diamonds On My Windshield” by Tom Waits.
The late french songwriter Serge Gainsbourg continues to have an influence on modern music. Considered an innovator behind the ye-ye style of pop music, his music has been sampled on hundreds of tracks, including “Talkin Bout Hey Love,” and was most recently featured on Jay Electronica’s Act II: The Patents of Nobility (The Turn).
The lead single, “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’” featured guest appearances Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, R&B singer Vinia Mojica and entrepreneur Russell Simmons on this bouncy, nostalgic track about the roller skating fad in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
VIDEO: De La Soul “A Rollerskating Jam Called ‘Saturdays'”
De La Soul is Dead is also filled with tons of hidden gems, including “Bitties in the BK Lounge,” a three-part song about the interactions between customers and employees at a Burger King, “My Brother is a Basehead,” a song about a drug user turned full-fledged addict, and “Pass the Plugs,” which was a big screw you to the comments they received from people like Arsenio Hall and a precursor to the future conflict with their label, Tommy Boy.
“Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)” is a great example of just how tired of the fame the group had become at this point. The classic jam track was created in response to overzealous fans shopping out their demos to try and get a feature or endorsement from the group.
It even ends with a voice recording from a man named Ronald Master with the “Fish Tank Posse” who leaves a message with the group asking to link up. “You know we got this fly new jam called ‘Swimming In the Fish Tank’, you know we gonna rock it man, you know what I’m saying, but I just need your help, Prince Paul gave me your number, you know man, you just gotta do that for me.”
VIDEO: De La Soul “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)”
The track, “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa” is certainly the most tragic and quite possibly the most powerful of the story’s inner narratives, which tells of a girl whose father sexually molests her. Finding that nobody will believe her, she purchases a gun and heads into Macy’s where her father is working as a department store Santa and shoots him dead.
“Keepin’ the Faith” helps bring the album to a close with a more positive and upbeat tune, which is based around the Bob James song “Sign of the Times,” a sample that would also be the foundation for the 1994 West Coast classic “Regulate” by Warren G and Nate Dogg.
De La Soul’s music still remains unavailable to stream, for the time being, however last year, Rostrum Records founder Benjy Grinberg told Hip-Hop DX that he hopes to help the group retrieve the masters from Tommy Boy.
Currently, they are hoping to have a discussion with the label executives regarding negotiations, as the label currently collects 90 percent of the royalties.
AUDIO: Chris Read’s De La Soul Is Dead at 25 mixtape for Wax Poetics circa 2016