In 1989, rap was in the thick of its vaunted golden age, with groups like EPMD, Boogie Down Productions, and Beastie Boys dropping classic after classic. That’s when three bugged-out young men from Amityville, Long Island, (record scratch) appeared at the door. De La Soul, along with mentor/producer Prince Paul, quickly joined the ranks—not by aping their contemporaries, but simply by being themselves. And there was a lot to decipher: They strung together code words, bizarre samples, in-jokes, and skits, creating a vibrant language—hell, a cosmos even—to explore.
De La crafted surreal masterpieces on early songs like “Potholes in My Lawn” and “Plug Tunin’,” gleefully painting outside of hip-hop’s then somewhat rigid lines. “Me Myself and I,” a joyous declaration of independence set to Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” jet-propelled their popularity but quickly became an albatross. The 1989 hit—and its D.A.I.S.Y. Age hippie motifs—grated on them so bad, they literally wrote their own epitaph on their second album, De La Soul Is Dead. It would not be their first self-immolation, however—De La seem to reinvent themselves with every album.
They wield their elder-spokesmen scepter, striking down hip-hop’s obsession with material wealth on Stakes Is High and “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two).” As the culture continues to evolve, De La Soul remain engaged and inquisitive, shooting spitballs at the status quo when warranted. As Posdnuos raps on “Supa Emcees,” “While others represent, I present my rep.”