1. Mild Schizophrenia. How many times has each member of De La Soul reinvented himself? Plug One=Posdnuos=Wonder Why. Plug Two=Trugoy the Dove=Dr. Ama. Plug Three=PA Pacemaster Mace=Maseo. A name for every era they’ve survived.
2. Soul. "De La Soul is ‘from the soul.’" What’s in a name, you ask? Everything. And, despite moderate sales, theirs means a lot more than "Insane Clown Posse."
3. Pace-Setting. The groundbreaking songs such as "Me, Myself and I" (Remember the stage chant, "We hate this song, but you love this song. We hate this song, but you love this song"?), "Say No Go," "Ring, Ring, Ring (Ha Ha Hey)," "Buddy," "Breakadawn," "Ego Trippin’." Dig in the crates. Dust ’em off. They still shine.
4. Lyrics. There is at least one line in every De La song ever released that makes the listener go "Damn!" Then again, there are at least 10 songs on every De La album that get the hell rewound out of them.
5. "Glow-nuts." Think hard. Remember when De La promised to open their doughnut shop? We all expected to see it happen before the release of De La Soul Is Dead. We all got played for joes.
6. 1993. Dr. Dre changes his position on weed-smoking. The whole world jocks The Chronic (I confess), and everybody is a gangsta. In the midst of the hype, De La releases Buhloone Mind State and Posdnuos screams, "Fuck being hard! Posdnuos is complicated!"
7. 1996. The world has changed its position on gangstadom. Notorious B.I.G. is declared one of the best emcees ever, after one album. Fans go from gangstas to players, and wet-dream mafiosos. The fourth De La album (Stakes Is High) becomes hip hop’s voice of reason that year. Dove declares to the world: "I ain’t got time for hangin’ around (hip hop) when you’re fuckin’ my love in all the wrong places."
8. Prince Paul. Yeah, he may have been known as Stetsasonic’s DJ, but it wasn’t until he began producing tracks for De La that the psychoanalytic mad scientist became a respected beatsmith.
9. Introspection. Some groups’ careers have been defined by their penchant for public self-analysis. De La was bold enough to call out their own Native Tongues collective without being disrespectful ("… or some Tongues who lied and said we’d be Native to the end. Nowadays we don’t even speak"). The collective reformed by the time Stakes was released.
10. Respect. Who begins their most important album with a tribute to a crew who’s not even on their label (When I … first heard … Criminal Minded)?
11. History. De La was the first American rap group to showcase Japanese emcees on their album.
12. Recognition. They introduced us to Black Sheep and Mos Def.
13. The D.A.I.S.Y. Age. They may not use the name anymore, but De La’s music still reflects DA Inner Sound Y’all.
More arguments could be made. For instance, we could discuss De La Soul’s hardcore normalness. Where so many rap artists are hell-bent on hype and self-aggrandizement, De La’s Maseo opts to work as a basketball coach at the Amityville Youth Organization. "Being an entertainer," says the father of three, "I am often called on for different events. But I’ve learned to strategically use that to my benefit to talk to the kids straight from the heart — no holds barred."
Their (relatively) regular lives outside of hip hop remind us that man still makes the music, not the other way around. By giving you the honesty, the playfulness, the abstraction, the innovation, album after album, De La keeps the music bold and interesting. With the impending release of Art Official Intelligence, a three-volume album, De La Soul will again attempt to bend the genre. It will be released as three separate CDs over the next year (September, December and February/March 2000). Guests on the album will include Busta Rhymes, Xzibit and a host of others. Where their previous albums introduced "D.A.I.S.Y. Ages (DA Inner Sound Y’all)," declared that De La Soul was "Dead" and denounced the gangsta-player eras, this will be the first De La album with no clear-cut theme. "Just some real good music," says Maseo.
The group will probably preview some of the new music when they perform at the State Theater. At this point in their career, they don’t need themes. They’ve had 11 years’ worth. Now, all they need is their just due. Khary Kimani Turner covers the hip-hop nation for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org