On Valentine’s Day weekend, De La Soul made the large majority of their catalogue (their first six studio albums and some rarities/greatest hits packages) available for free download. I, of course, jumped on it like a junkie seizing a clean needle. Of course, you don’t want to sift through over 200 tracks to capture the gems, so Rock NYC has done the heavy lifting for you.
De La Soul are formalists, like the Ramones were. Most of the tracks sound the same and they all sound good. De La is all about the groove and flow, they are the quiet storm of hip hop. You have to lay back for the music to hit you, leaning forward doesn’t help. Since 1989, they’ve voiced an articulate, positivism that has been diametrically opposed to gangsta rap posturing. However, they still enjoy weed and sex. They are an undeniable major act that has created a unique body of work that no other band could have. Here are twenty of their best tracks to add to your collection.
1. “Eye Know.” The fourth non-charting single from their debut album 3 Feet High and Rising reflects how basic most sampling was in the ‘80s, but mixing a hook from the Stax/Volt band the Mad Libs with the swing of Steely Dan’s “Peg” is a winning combination.
2. “Me Myself & I.” The band’s sole Top 40 hit (peaked at #34) introduced the trio to MTV while rapping over Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” Unfortunately, their only song widely known, but the band’s career has been made on an enduring aesthetic, instead of pop hits.
3. “Say No Go.” Using a guitar lick from the Detroit Emeralds and sampling Hall and Oates, this anti-crack cocaine follow up to “Me Myself & I” went Top 20 in the U.K.
4. “A Roller Skating Jam Called ‘Saturdays’.” I have no idea who the Mighty Ryeders were (catchy name, eh?), but they put together a sweet dance groove on “Evil Vibrations” and De La used it as the foundation for this wonderful Saturday in the park vibe. The sample from Frankie Valli’s “Grease” is equally obtrusive and hysterical.
5. “Millie Pulled A Pistol on Santa.” One of the darker numbers in their catalogue, a daughter kills her sexually abusive father. The Funkadelic groove offsets the oddness of offing a department store Santa.
6. “Pass the Plugs.” This De La Soul Is Dead salute to the J.B.s has an absolutely brilliant guitar sample from Edna Wright’s “Oops! Here I Go Again.” Lightweight lyric, but a fun groove.
7. “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey).” In this U.K Top Ten hit, the band grows weary of receiving unsolicited mixtapes from overzealous fans. The background “Yo, Yo, Yo” screaming works both as a hook and satire simultaneously.
8. “Keepin’ the Faith.” Like Leave Home by the Ramones, the second De La Soul album is often viewed as a disappointment, but it just represents the difference between introduction and continuation. The bass line of this number, sampled from Slave’s “Just A Touch of Love,” is one for the ages.
9. “Patti Dooke.” The Buhloone Mindstate album added another level of musical sophistication as the band worked with jazz legends Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis. If the combination of jazz, funk, and hip hop on “Patti Dooke,” doesn’t get you moving, you might be dead.
10. “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two).” De La found gangsta rap both offensive and stupid. Here, with help from Al Hirt, they make light of it.
11. “I Am I Be.” There are not enough superlatives in the world to throw against this song. Just astonishing.
12. “Itsoweezee (Hot).” De La left producer Prince Paul on the Stakes is High album and there is a palpable loss in musical sophistication from Buhloone Mindstate. Still, this is a solid groove that doesn’t need any ornamentation.
13. “4 More.” Dance music that makes your hips sway instead of bludgeoning you with a disco beat.
14. “Big Brother Beat.” Mos Def drops in while Posdnuos, Trugoy the Dove, and P.A. Pasemaster Mase remind us how skilled they are at rhyming and flow.
15. “Stakes is High.” “I’m sick of bitches shakin’ asses / I’m sick of talkin’ about blunts / Sick of Versace glasses / Sick of slang / Sick of half-ass awards shows / Sick of name brand clothes.” A major statement about the ugliness of hip hop culture in the ‘90s.
16. “All Good?” Reminiscent of a Niles Rodgers track in the way a sharp, repetitive lick carries the music. Chaka Khan serves up wondrous support goodness.
17. “Bionix.” A humorous mix of hard rhymes, kiddie interludes, and ‘70s r&b icing.
18. “Held Down.” Cee Lo Green brings the Southern gospel flavored funk while Posdnuos preaches personal responsibility. “And when I’m watchin the news, and my daughter walks in/And choose to ask, “Why were all those people on the floor sleepin’, covered in red?” I told her/That they were lookin’ for God, but found religion instead.”
19. “Trying People.” Rapping about hope while trying to balance careers, relationships, and family obligations. Nobody stays young forever.
20. “Feel Good Inc.” Our heroes rap on this Gorillaz track that was a major international hit in 2005. Not every act can get citizens across the globe to sing, “Don’t stop, shit it, get it.”
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