November 17, 2008

De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead (May 13, 1991)


De La Soul released their second album, De La Soul Is Dead, in 1991, two years after they found success and praise with their Prince Paul-produced debut, 3 Feet High & Rising. Their first album was made up of songs that sounded gleeful, creative, and fucking happy, dammit, so much so that you would probably let your children listen to it about twelve times in a row before you remembered that there were, in fact, curse words on the disc. However, their happy-go-lucky attitude and approach to life (which, in my opinion, was manufactured more by Tommy Boy Records than by the group itself) led them to be labeled as hip hop hippies, a term they hated. As such, De La Soul Is Dead was recorded with more than a little bit of anger boiling up the blood.

Teaming up with Prince Paul once again, Posdnuos, Trugoy (or "Dave", as I will call him later on), and Maseo approach the struggles with the minutiae of life with a much darker sensibility than what pervaded their debut. With that, De La Soul trashed their "D.A.I.S.Y. Age" theme completely (it stood for "Da Inner Sound, Y'all", and contributed to the trio being labelled as hippies: the broken flower pot on the cover of De La Soul Is Dead essentially kills that movement with one swift blow). The group chose a children's storybook format to help move things along, which is easily followed thanks to the comic strip they included in the liner notes. As if to take the piss out of any potential critics of their work, they even refer to their own music as boring, although the songs themselves are far from it.

De La Soul Is Dead may not have sold as many copies as 3 Feet High & Rising, and may not have as many fans (I'm excluding bloggers in that last statement, of course), but it should be seen as proof that you can shed your image in hip hop without sacrificing anything. (Of course, the lack of sales may have something to do with the fact that Maseo tells the Amityville community to go fuck themselves, but if you read through his liner notes, his reasons are valid.)

Anyway.

1. INTRO
The album-as-children's storybook format is always a good one whenever Prince Paul is somehow involved. Although this story is already a lot darker than the debut album, it is pretty genius to have the intro end the same way as 3 Feet High & Rising.

2. OODLES OF O'S
De La Soul Is Dead may be considered much more mature than the debut, but the songs still sound playful. The elasticity of this instrumental aids the transition between albums in a substantial way.

3. TALKIN' BOUT HEY LOVE
The first of many musical interludes that serve their purpose (making you question how musical concepts should be presented), even though they have the tendency to bring the album's flow to a screeching halt.

4. PEASE PORRIDGE
I was actually annoyed as shit during this song. For such a ridiculous premise, there's too much going on here, and the verses consist of a gimmick which features Pos and Dave rhyming with a fake stutter for the majority of their bars. Somehow A Tribe Called Quest's Jarobi was roped into appearing towards the end, but not to rap, which I suppose is alright, since he was never known for spitting, but it's still pretty random.

5. SKIT 1
...

6. JOHNNY'S DEAD AKA VINCENT MASON (LIVE FROM THE BK LOUNGE)
This shit is just goofy.

7. A ROLLER SKATING JAM NAMED "SATURDAYS" (FEAT Q-TIP & VINIA MOJICA)
Thankfully, the disco sound presented at the beginning is mostly abandoned, giving listeners a fun-filled De La Soul take on what A Tribe Called Quest may have recorded for their first album. Hell, even Q-Tip appears for good measure. This is just a great fucking song. In contrast, there's a version of this track simply called "Saturdays" that uses a different beat, and that song blows. You see, kids, the musical backdrop can make or break a song.

8. WRMS' DEDICATION TO THE BITTY
Skit...

9. BITTIES IN THE BK LOUNGE
During Dave's first verse, the song is boring as shit. Afterward. the beat does switch itself up, but the song is already a lost cause at this point.

10. SKIT 2
...

11. MY BROTHER'S A BASEHEAD
Meh.

12. LET, LET ME IN
I kind of dug this one. It was probably the instrumental work more than anything else, though.

13. AFRO CONNECTIONS AT THE HI 5 (IN THE EYES OF THE HOODLUM)
This song took aim at what would soon become the dominating force in hip hop in the early 1990's, gangsta rap. It's a weird title, sure, but the song itself is not bad. The airtight drums are especially awesome-sounding.

14. RAP DE RAP SHOW
Considering that Prince Paul was only barely a member of De La Soul (and by "barely" I mean "not really"), it's awfully nice of the group to include this long-ass interlude, which features many day players (and Q-Tip and the Jungle Brothers) praising Paul's alter ego, the Dew Doo Man. However, when Paul appears to give himself a shout-out, the entire experience turns a bit meta.

15. MILLIE PULLED A PISTOL ON SANTA
One of the better story-drive tracks in hip hop, this song is impressive in its attention to detail. It's also dark as hell, so you two should be forewarned about the disturbing shit that's presented. The song itself is really good, though, and deserves your attention.

16. WHO DO U WORSHIP?
A bizarre interlude, albeit one with some interesting musical choices.

17. SKIT 3
...

18. KICKED OUT THE HOUSE
De La may have been too nice to say outright that they're making fun of house music, but Max has no qualms with disrespecting one of the most boring forms of club music ever created. I'll say it again, for those in the back: House music sucks. As a result, this song also sucks, but it was intended to suck, so I guess De La Soul wins.

19. PASS THE PLUGS
A serious reflection on their career so far, with all of the issues and concerns that most folks don't really think about when they want to hear music (read: record label issues and the like). Still, to hear it come straight from the artists involved is interesting, and this song is all the better for it.

20. NOT OVER TILL THE FAT LADY PLAYS THE DEMO
With a title like that, I would certainly hope this was just an interlude. I found myself annoyed at the sound of this track, almost as much as I was with "Pease Porridge", but for different reasons entirely.

21. RING RING RING (HA HA HEY)
This will sound strange coming from me, but I actually liked the hook on here. I know, right? The song itself is decent, I suppose, but the chorus is as catchy as bird flu. When you consider that the hook is essentially an answering machine greeting, this song is even more impressive.

22. WRMS - CAT'S IN CONTROL
If there were a radio station in real life that played nothing but De La Soul music, I would imagine it would run out of songs to play within about eight hours.

23. SKIT 4
...

24. SHWINGALOKATE
I didn't care for this song.

25. FANATIC OF THE B WORD (FEAT MIKE G)
I have a soft spot for Native Tongues collaborations. (Mike G is from the Jungle Brothers). This is certainly one of them.

26. KEEPIN' THE FAITH
How is it possible that a song can be both upbeat and boring at the same time?

27. SKIT 5
Really more of an outro than a regular skit.

FINAL THOUGHTS: De La Soul Is Dead is 3 Feet High & Rising without the whimsy. It's a good direction for De La Soul to go, since they felt the need to prove to the world that they were not the hip hop hippies that their record label made them out to be, and, thankfully, they opted to retain Prince Paul's sensibilities (although he actually had less input in the crew's direction this go round), which helped De La Soul present another facet of the Native Tongues diamond. Its dark themes (ranging from fear of failure to child molestation) may keep some folks away, but readers of this blog owe De La Soul Is Dead at least one listen in its entirety.

BUY OR BURN? Unlike most Prince Paul-produced albums, I felt there were too many skits on this disc, which disrupted the flow a good number of times. Still, the good songs on here are fucking great, and I think you should run out and buy it, but I don't personally find it more appealing than 3 Feet High & Rising. I repeat: you should buy this one, though.

BEST TRACKS: "A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays'"; "Pass The Plugs"; "Oodles Of O's"; "Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
De La Soul - 3 Feet High & Rising

6 comments:

  1. Now this is a more interessting album, Max.

    From one of the most creative groups in hip hop history, I like everything on the disc.

    "AFRO CONNECTIONS AT THE HI 5 (IN THE EYES OF THE HOODLUM)" is great and the bass is surprising good (ha ha ha). The same for "KICKED OUT THE HOUSE". Entertaining and creative at the same time...

    Lyrically, the usual. De La Soul kept their creative good side up to the next album (Mindstate bulhoon).

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  2. ...And now you brought me back to the blog.

    Not to say that your other reviews were bad, but finally you get to an alubm that really appeals to me.

    DLS Is Dead is still one of my favorites albums, and it shows an interesting progression in the group. Buhloone Mindstate takes it even further with the creativity and really shows the group maturing.

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  3. ditto what jeff said. I bought the TAPE, which left off a bunch of the skits (and the basehead song). I was what, 14 when this came out? and it changed my life...before I heard this it was all about ice cube (who i cant stand now) and gangsta ish. but speaking of gangsta, how can you review all this nwa stuff and not touch on the greatest gangsta group ever? The geto boys self titled and the resurrection are the pinnacle of that genre...but anyways like your blog man

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  4. jumped on this for saturdays and stayed cause of "millie pulled a pistol", nice, poignant joint... darker yes but still funny as heck, mr lawnge cathes wrech shitting on cocksnot and buttcrust...there were a couple of blah moments that definitely tip the balance in favour of 3feet high and rising...

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  5. I loved Peas Porridge, especiall y the fact that the drum beat has a tap dancing sampling over it. I hated the fact that Paul would reuse this beat with Chubb Rock on it... I forget for which album... but I think the track was called Planes Trains and Autmobiles... I think.
    Plus that track, I also think, was the first time I heard Maseo ryhme on.

    Afro Connections has the best ryhme : "my breath never smells wack, I use the watermelon tic tac"

    Ya forgot that Fanatic of the B Word also has Dres on it.

    Keepin the Faith is still one of my favourite tunes.

    Congrats on picking a worthy album.

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  6. I know it sounds blasphemous, but I didn't even give De La Soul a listen until last week (when I read the 3 Feet High and Rising review). I bought their first three albums and I'm liking this the best. But anyways, Prince Paul fucking rocks.

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