DE LA SOUL at Sound Academy (11 Polson), Friday (January 18). $20 advance. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Nothing in the world disintegrates faster than the musical memory of a new-school hiphop head (except maybe Britney Spears’s sanity, but the celebrity-worship of her unravelling psyche is another subject). In a subculture that eagerly elevates, then decapitates its newest superstars faster than they can say “Where’s Nelly?”, the fate of hiphop’s originators rests on a perilously unstable foundation. MC Lyte discovered that only five people out of 500 attending a Toronto Retro Rap party knew the words to the timelessly relevant 1989 posse cut Self-Destruction, an indication of disdain for classic – that’s pre-Tupac and -Biggie – hiphop.
Depressingly, the only rap group born in the 80s that’s still going strong, Long Island legends De La Soul, are also in danger of being forgotten. An audio Alzheimer’s is seizing the minds of MuchMusic’s MOD- and BET’s 106-&-Park-aged audience. De La Soul-style abstract approaches to vocalism, lyrical experimentation and tongue-in-cheekiness have all but disappeared from the repertoire of the modern mainstream MC, except for the likes of Nasty Nas, Talib Kweli, Common and Jay-Z (and then only when he wants to get witty wit’ it).
But no matter how much cash money everyone’s favourite new rapper, Lil Wayne, makes with his daddy, it’s important not to forget the contributions De La Soul have made.
The hiphop skit
If there’s one thing De La Soul (and brilliant producer Prince Paul) are directly responsible for, it’s the creation of the hiphop skit. The concept first appeared on their 1989 debut, 3 Feet High And Rising, when the group role-played being contestants on a game show. Of course, bloated budgets, swollen egos and sheer lack of talent would stop lesser MCs from writing skits as funny, honest, cinematic and smart as De La’s. By the mid-90s, almost every rap album had an intro, outro and three irrelevant, self-indulgent diversions between the songs. But give a special shoutout to Big Pun for the gangstalicious comedy of Pakinamac (In The Back Of The Ac!). And who can forget the sound of Biggie having bed-rocking sex while being called a “fried-chicken-eatin’, Oreo-cookie-eatin’… black greasy motherfucker”? You couldn’t forget the sound even if you wanted to. Thanks, De La!
Passing the torch to the leaders of the new school
De La Soul gave Mos Def his first solo guest appearance. Pretty Flaco can be found spitting heat on the track Big Brother Beat, off the Stakes Is High album.
No free samples
De La Soul introduced hiphop to music clearance law when the Turtles sued them over a sample on 3 Feet High And Rising’s Transmitting Live From Mars. It cost Tommy Boy $100,000, half of which De La had to cough up.
Hiphop’s first sax-a-ma-phone solo
Inimitable James Brown saxist Maceo Parker’s nearly five-minute, soul-massaging instrumental on 93’s jazz-infused Buhloone Mindstate is something few would dare to do, then or now.
Advancing The Message
De La Soul took Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s historic hit to the next level with Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa, the first hiphop song to directly address familial sexual abuse. What rich rapper of 08 would tell such a chillingly detailed story, in which a young black girl brings a gun to Macy’s and shoots her Santa Claus-playing father dead for his R. Kelly-ish transgressions? Welcome to the art of storytelling, long before Eminem’s domestic disputes with Kim and Debbie.
Bringing the King of Pop to hiphop
A year before Nas sampled MJ’s Human Nature on 1994’s It Ain’t Hard To Tell, De La Soul lifted the soul-stirring melody of Jackson’s I Can’t Help It to new heights on Breakadawn, thanks to the creatively cryptic flows of Posdnuos and Trugoy fused with the delicious little embellishments born in the madhouse mind of Prince Paul.
Remembering their roots
The 1994 song Stix & Stonz, featuring Grandmaster Caz, Tito of Fearless Four, Whipper Whip, LA Sunshine and Superstar, was one of the first times when commercially successful MCs remembered their roots and stayed musically connected to them. Most of the names involved in this inter-generational hiphop collaboration would fly clear over the average 08-era hiphop head.