“Give the flowers to the living” (or, in this case, daisies I suppose).
I’m appreciative to URB Magazine for many reasons, not the least of which is that they gave me the opportunity to interview and profile some of my heroes, including De La Soul. I wrote a profile on the group as they were preparing to release “Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump” in 2000 (issue #76 with Armand Van Helder on the cover. Should have been a De La cover story if you ask me!)
My wife Sharon, an accomplished art critic in her own right, has always been self-conscious about potential conflicts of interest in her relationships with her subjects. I admire that about her but let’s be real: those of us who cut our teeth writing about hip-hop rarely maintained the same kind of impartial/critical distance. We fanned out because being fans is what lead us to write to begin with.
I was geeked to be able to sit down with De La for that piece, going as far to bring my OG copy of “3 Feet High” with me to the interview. At the end, I asked if they’d be gracious enough to sign it for me (the copy of which is the image at top).
Again: probably a Journalism 101 “no-no” but whatever. It was my opportunity to thank a group that — and I know this phrase is loaded — changed my life. And I told them as much at the time. (I also got to do it again, years later, when I worked on the NPR piece about Buhloone Mindstate‘s 20th anniversary. And frankly, if I had had the opportunity to interview them a dozen times more, I would have done the same thing a dozen times more.)
They’ve been that important to me but far more, they’ve been that important to the culture.
Relatedly, this is the lede for the obit I knocked out on Sunday for NPR Music:
The most formative musical memory of my youth occurred 30,000 feet over central California in the summer of 1989. I was almost 17, flying on a school trip from LA to the Bay Area, and popped into my Walkman was an album I had just picked up from my local record store, Moby Disc: De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. When the cassette reached “Eye Know,” about midway through Side A, I sat transfixed in my seat. I had never heard anything like this before: an earnest rap song about love that wasn’t a sappy radio ballad (no offense, LL Cool J), set to a delicious groove that merged ’60s soul and ’70s art pop. Part of me wanted to take my headphones off and share the song with one of my classmates but the part that was selfish won out. When the track ended, I rewound and played it again. And again. And again. “Eye Know” wasn’t the first rap song I ever heard but it was the first that sparked an interest to explore the music and culture behind it. As with many others who discovered hip-hop in that same era, that private epiphany changed my life’s trajectory.
That impulse — to want to share music with others — began with De La in that moment, on that plane. That impulse still carries me, 34 years later. It’s why this newsletter exists, why I created Soul-Sides.com, why I’ve been a DJ, a writer, a scholar. My inspirations behind all this involved more than just De La but I still think of them as the genesis.
In my time, I’m so thankful I’ve had the opportunity to thank all of them for the impact they’ve had on my life. And I’ll continue thanking them until my very end. So once again: thanks again to Prince Paul, Pos, Mase and especially Trugoy. Rest in peace and power.
(Originally published for the Soul Sides Stray newsletter)
I’ve probably listened to Buhloone Mind State 200 times and I’m still trying to figure out what Trugoy is talking about on some of the songs. Love him for that. Thanks for this O-Dub!
Loved the note, O-Dub. I have my own special memory of my first real De La encounter that echoes your words about sharing music: during my freshman year at college, my older brother stopped by my dorm room one morning when I was fairly hungover and left De La Soul is Dead on my desk. I was not yet a hip hop nerd and had only heard a couple of their 3 Feet singles. Still, my brother knew my taste and said “I think you’ll like this.” Eventually I got up to play the album, and after listening to the whole thing in one sitting, I started it over again.
A couple years ago during the pandemic, an old friend and I were sending long texts back and forth. One day we both listed our top 10 most personally influential albums, and De La Soul is Dead was on mine. RIP Trugoy.