Which De La Soul Album Is the Best?
Last Friday, Long Island rap greats De La Soul shocked and delighted the world in the best of ways by putting their entire Tommy Boy-released discography up for free download for 24 hours. Folks who've never experienced the group's output, or perhaps hadn't heard it in a while, flocked to their website in droves to re-visit one of the most consistent catalogs in hip-hop. Part of what makes De La so revered, and their work so acclaimed, is that you could make a case for each and every one of their albums being their best. Everyone has a favorite De La record, so with these jams fresh in our ears, we decided to make the case for each.
Foto di Matti via Wikimedia Commons De La Soul, from the soul.
See also: De La Soul Live
3 Feet High and Rising
The only album that could rival Dr. Dre's The Chronic in terms of the most influential rap album of all time, De La's landmark debut 3 Feet High and Rising can be traced in the DNA of each and every rap album that has a track which isn't a song. Yes, this record, under the brilliant guide of producer Prince Paul, created the rap skit. 3 Feet High and Rising is also a shining example of what a strong debut can do in terms of instantly defining an artist and connecting with an audience. While the past 25 years of De La mentions in any sort of retrospective has beat us over the head with the images from the "Me, Myself and I" video, it is indicative of the unique world 3 Feet High and Rising creates. From the defined environments to the inventive language, it's not a record that followed any trend, but rather lead the way for listeners to get a different slice of New York. The positive vibes and catchy hodgepodge of melodies also made 3 Feet incredibly accessible and a frequent title holder of listeners' "first rap album."
De La Soul is Dead
But as strong as 3 Feet High and Rising was as a debut, De La Soul is Dead was a bold reconstruction of a sophomore album. With a cover art that declared their "D.A.I.S.Y. Age" was, well, dead, its skits and subject matter broke the fourth wall discussing how misunderstood and mislabeled the group had been, but didn't let these gripes get in the way of analyzing relationships both with their interactions in their communities as well as continuing some of the boldest storytelling in rap with "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa" and "Keeping the Faith." Still backed by producer Prince Paul, the production heard here is as sharp as sample-collage production gets. The final De La album before the crackdown on sampling laws, it's an incredibly strong offering that dabbled in everything rap was offering at the time.
De La's last album with Prince Paul is most known for showing an ahead-of-its-time maturity, as well as an incredibly ambitious organic production. Gone were the Native Tongue guest appearances and teenage irreverence, but that's not to say they were replaced by a dour methodology or by frequent super-serious reminders of how old they were. It had been a few years, and at the end of their early 20s, new responsibilities and new perspectives worked their way into the album's themes, making it among the first of its kind. The autobiographical "I Am I Be" might be the group's finest hour, a song that still can send chills. Adding to its pedigree, the album also features a guest appearance by the great Maceo Parker. It's as well-rounded and defined of a statement as rap albums get.