De La Soul’s early albums finally hitting streaming platforms made me feel like a kid on Christmas morning
OPINION: De La Soul’s decades-long saga to make their music commercially available finally came to an end on March 3, 2023, and I literally couldn’t be happier.
I stayed up until midnight on March 3, 2023, for one reason and one reason only: so I could pull up “De La Soul is Dead” — the five-mic-rated sophomore album from De La Soul — on Spotify and stream it. The entire early Tommy Boy Records catalog of De La Soul hit all streaming services on March 3, and it felt like Christmas to me.
And I was tired, boss. I flew into Atlanta earlier that morning to drive to Tuskegee University to attend my nephew’s probate show and then drove back to Atlanta that night to try to catch some sleep to fly back to Washington, D.C., the next morning. So, even though I clearly needed to get some sleep, I needed to stay up until midnight so I could see all of the albums — “3 Feet High and Rising,” “De La Soul is Dead,” “Buhloone Mindstate,” “Stakes Is High,” “Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump,” and “AOI: Bionix” — available for streaming, ensuring that a legacy rap act’s actual legacy was available for the world to hear.
It felt important, especially for me. My favorite album of all time has long been “De La Soul is Dead.” Like all important things in life, that album has been part of my identity as a music head, origin story included. I learned of De La Soul and that particular album from a young lady friend of mine in 7th grade who told me I needed to listen to the tape she was listening to. She changed my life and didn’t even know it. That was in 1991, and here we are in 2023 and I’m still emotionally invested in how I first heard it and what it means to me. That, my friends, is proof-positive of how a group makes art that matters.
And it matters even more now. On Feb. 12, 2023, roughly three weeks before their albums would officially hit the e-streets, founding member David Jolicoeur, aka Trugoy the Dove aka Dave aka Plug Two, passed away in what feels like a cruel twist of timing. It made me want to ensure that I did my part to let the group know how much they’ve meant to me by listening to every single album as much as humanly possible as often as possible. At least in the next few weeks.
Back to staying up to midnight to listen to an album I own in physical form and have downloaded on my phone. I can’t quite articulate why it was so important to me, if I’m being honest. It’s almost as if this felt like a huge win for hip-hop as a whole, which could also be true but also an overstatement. My nieces and nephews have no idea who De La Soul is, and I’m not sure if that statement changes whether or not their music is available or not. They may have heard some of the songs in movies.The group’s song “The Magic Number” was in the end credits of 2021’s blockbuster film “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” But if they wanted to find the song back then, they would have come up short. When I have shared early ’90s groups with my nephews, they both feel the music is fairly boring and repetitive. But despite whether or not they’d listen frequently, the ability for it to exist seems so important. “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’” is just good music. It belongs on every single “Best of ’90s” playlist ever created.
Folks’ ability to hear songs like 1996’s “Stakes Is High,” a song that’s frequently debated as being one of late legendary hip-hop producer J Dilla’s best productions, is important to fully understand and weigh such discussions. Sure, it’s on YouTube, but in the middle of a room where folks are arguing about hip-hop, Apple Music or Spotify and Bluetooth helps flesh out the debates. And everybody needs to be able to listen to Posdnuos absolutely FLOAT over “Breakadawn” from “Buhloone Mindstate.”
It also felt like a win — and one I wanted to be a part of — because of just how long it’s taken for the albums to be widely available. To know the De La Soul story is to know of their struggles getting their music to the fans. Because of label issues with Tommy Boy and clearing samples, etc. (all of this information can be found here), it’s a tale that feels literally as old as time); it felt for a while like the only people hearing their albums would be the superfans who owned the physical copies. I’m one of those people, but those albums are ALSO in boxes with the rest of my CDs — in storage. I don’t even have an apparatus to play my physical CDs any longer, so I’ve had to download (somehow, someway) all of the albums I wanted to listen to, De La’s catalog included. Now that me and you, your momma and your cousin, too, can listen to them all with our phones and streaming apps, well, I knew I had to be there on day one.
Look, it’s possible that this is a win for me and folks like me who are fans of a group that helped shape the sounds of our youth. But De La Soul is a group like many others whose albums have languished in limbo over music business shenanigans. To see them finally see, and get to, the finish line should be a lesson to every group. And most importantly, it gives them a chance to eat off of and support their families, while ensuring that the legacy they built in real-time gets the love it deserves by old fans and hopefully legions of new ones.
Because, if we’re being real, everybody needs to be able to hear “Eye Know.” Everybody.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).
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