Between the Bars: De La Soul

Over at Renée Rice’s blog This Creative Life, I’ve got a new essay on De La Soul. Me being me, it’s partly memoir and about a lot of other things, too. Here’s a taste:

Yet, here was De La Soul coming through with Buhloone Mindstate, the group’s oddest record to date. It’s so willfully weird and excessive that you would think the climate hadn’t changed at all, and that the Natives were still in vogue. Buhloone has so many guest spots that it’s dizzying. Seemingly every Native Tongues member makes an appearance. So do Japanese rappers SDP and Takagi Kan, Shortie No Mass, Biz Markie, Busta Rhymes, Guru, and Maceo Parker. Some tracks include as many as seven samples, even after the Biz Markie lawsuit made this prohibitively expensive. The drum parts are intricate by the era’s standards. I can’t imagine how much this record cost to produce, and De La had already suffered through a sampling lawsuit for their “Transmitting Live from Mars.” After the commercial failure (though critical success) of De La Soul Is Dead, and the decline of the movement they spawned, it seems that De La decided: “Hey, Tommy Boy might not let us do this shit again, on this scale. So let’s throw the biggest Native Tongues party ever and blow up the neighborhood.” There’s a valedictory air about the entire record. In “In the Woods,” Posdnuos raps, “Fuck being hard/ Posdnuos is complicated.” The band and producer Prince Paul seem to have taken the line as a mantra.

In it, I compare the group’s third and fourth records—Buhloone Mindstate (1993) and Stakes Is High (1996), respectively—and the space in-between. Go read it, and tell me what you think.

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About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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