Monday, September 10, 2007

[073] De La Soul Is Dead

Album: De La Soul Is Dead
Artist: De La Soul
Release Date: May 1991
Label: Tommy Boy
Producers: De La Soul and Prince Paul

"Arsenio dissed us
But the crowd kept clapping"
- from "Pass The Plugs" (referring to this)

De La Soul Is Dead, De La Soul's sophomore album is many things. It's the most under-appreciated classic on this list. It's the most dense classic on this list. And it's also the most misunderstood classic on this list. The quote above is a bit of an odd choice to pull out, but one look at the video, and you can tell that even before this album, De La Soul was frustrated with being called 'hippies'. That frustration did not fade. While doing research, I read a lot of reviews and write-ups and they all said the exact same things: that De La Soul reacted to the verbal flogging from the Hip-Hop community for being hippies by making the subject matter darker (crack addiction! child abuse!), and crafting a concept album about overall bitterness. Oh no, the daisies on the cover are knocked over - De La is trying to smash their original image because people didn't like it.

That's fucking bullshit! No one was paying any attention apparently, because anyone could see that De La Soul were not hippies or thugs or whatever - they were simply themselves, ultra-creative suburbanites from Amityville, NY (516 represent!). The daisies on the cover are them, crushed by their peers. If someone you worked with constantly spread rumors you had a second job as a stripper, you'd get frustrated when people introduced you that way. De La Soul just wanted to show they were normal... or normal-ish. But like I said, De La Soul Is Dead is dense, so dense that most people that ever heard it threw it away, as the meta-skits on the album predict. And so no one ever took the time to decipher the mixed messages within the deluge of ideas. Only half of the 27 tracks on the album are actually songs; the other half are skits (about how much this album sucks), skits-within-skits (about a radio station that plays nothing but De La), A.D.D. song fragments, and some kind of subplot about opening a donut shop (And shit, I still haven't figured that one out). Most of these distractions are not even essential to the album either. I kinda don't blame everyone for missing what's in the songs - a brilliant concept album about miscommunication of all kinds.

"Chanters play the part of a herd at a show
Pos prints the peace on his jeans or Jebos
But let the herd know if beef they wanna throw
Lunches of punches is what I bestow"
- Posdnuos, from "Oodles Of O's"

I needed another quote; that one gives a bit more of what people were hearing. But notice that it's defensive; De La Soul felt backed into a corner because no one was really listening. It's the first hint of the album's true theme. The easiest thing for critics to pick up on was the aggressive pushing back of "Afro Connections At A Hi 5", which went at all the "hardcore" rappers who had made fun of them; it echoes the story of Jeff in "Skit 1", where the character of Jeff gets bullied at school, but he fights back anyway even though he probably knows he can't win. That was De La's story too. The majority of the album deals with the aftermath of their debut's success, and how that effected how people talked to them. All of a sudden, as on the first single "Ring Ring Ring", the only thing they were good for was to field people's demos and get them hooked up. "Bitties At The BK Lounge" deals with unappreciative autograph seekers, while "Pass The Plugs" tackles record company demands. If I was in De La at the time, I would've felt the same - frustrated, like what happened to just digging my music?? Another topic that's revisited is the Mars/Venus communication problems in the courtship stage of relationships. "Talkin' 'Bout Hey Love" features a girlfriend of Posdnuos's trying to get him to be monogamous. The sexual innuendo of "Let, Let Me In" softens the blow of the sexual tension, which leads to the open dialogue of "Keepin' The Faith" on the subject of saving sex until marriage.

Of course, none of this hints at the elastic power of the music, maniacally pieced together by De La and producer Prince Paul. When you take in just the album's songs, you'll find one of the most visionary Hip-Hop albums of all time, setting the stage for kaleidoscopic artists like Outkast and Gnarls Barkley. The bangin' opener "Oodles Of O's" rides an unexpected Tom Waits loop, "Keepin' The Faith" mixes in Bob Marley, and "A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays'" is a disco pastiche. Best and most infamous is the unparalleled masterpiece "Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa", De La Soul's most transcendent song, and easily ranks among Hip-Hop's most awe-inspiring moments. Over a dark, unsettling bed of early Funkadelic, we hear a third person account of a girl who is raped and abused by her father. Here the communication difficulty comes when the narrator, who is cool with the father, doesn't listen when Millie cries for help. The end result is a chilling moment that is never easy to sit through, but it's easy to understand, as is the rest of this album... If you take the time and pay attention.

01. "Intro" [interlude]
02. "Oodles Of O's"
03. "Talkin' 'Bout Hey Love"
04. "Pease Porridge"
05. "Skit 1" [interlude]
06. "Johnny's Dead AKA Vincent Mason (Live From The BK Lounge)" [interlude]*
07. "A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays'" [feat. Q-Tip and Vinia Mojica]
08. "WRMS' Dedication To The Bitty" [interlude]
09. "Bitties In The BK Lounge"
10. "Skit 2" [interlude]
11. "My Brother's A Basehead"*
12. "Let, Let Me In"
13. "Afro Connections At A Hi 5 (In The Eyes Of The Hoodlum)"
14. "Rap De Rap Show" [interlude]
15. "Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa"
16. "Who D U Worship?" [interlude]*
17. "Skit 3" [interlude]
18. "Kicked Out The House" [interlude]*
19. "Pass The Plugs" [feat. Prince Paul]
20. "Not Over Till The Fat Lady Plays The Demo" [interlude]
21. "Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)"
22. "WRMS: Cat's In Control" [interlude]
23. "Skit 4" [interlude]
24. "Shwingalokate"
25. "Fanatic Of The B Word" [feat. Dres of Black Sheep]
26. "Keepin' The Faith"
27. "Skit 5" [interlude]
*CD Bonus Tracks

"Oodles Of O's" [audio]

- BONUS: "Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)" [video]
This is actually some wack club remix with horns, but the verses remain untouched.
- BONUS: "A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays'" [video]
- BONUS: "Talkin' 'Bout Hey Love" [audio]
- BONUS: "Pease Porridge" [live at the Pitchfork Music Festival, 07.07]
- BONUS: "Pass The Plugs" [live in Amsterdam]

No comments: