Tuesday, August 20, 2013

De La Soul - Me Myself and I

When De La Soul's debut album came out in 1989, it created quite a stir in the music industry.  At a time when old school rap had started to feel stale, De La Soul's funky, jazzy and quirky take on hip hop was a breath of fresh air.  That album, 3 Feet High and Rising, was both critically and commercially successful and was hailed by many critics as a sign of things to come.

The lead single from the LP was "Me Myself and I" which would go on to become De La Soul's only top 40 hit (at #34), while the album would reach #24 and go platinum.  At the time, the group's positive message and broad use of samples seemed to be pushing hip hop in an upbeat, artistic direction; it was easy to believe that this was the beginning of a new era.  This sense of a movement was reinforced by the Native Tongues collective, which was a grouping of artists (led by De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Jungle Brothers) who shared a musical vision that was positive, laid-back and somewhat Afrocentric.

Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan for De La Soul.  First, The Turtles sued the band for not obtaining permission to use their song "You Showed Me" as a sample (in "Transmitting Live from Mars").  The Turtles eventually won the case, which had a huge impact on the rap industry, as samples now had to be cleared (and paid for) prior to work being released.  This delayed the group's second album, and made it more difficult to produce the layered songs that they favored.

In addition, the group had a difficult time artistically as their recordings varied in style but did not resonate as well with critics and listeners.  To my ear, it almost sounds as if they were trying to find their sound, something that became more difficult after the industry's shift to gangster rap in the early 1990's.  While the band continued to record, their audience seemed to shrink with every record.  To their credit, De La Soul has stayed together and continues to record to the present day.

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