20 Years Ago, De La Soul Refused To Go Pop : The Record De La's third album, Buhloone Mindstate, challenged the music industry — an industry then obsessed with hip-hop's crossover success — and went on to become a classic.
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20 Years Ago, De La Soul Refused To Go Pop

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20 Years Ago, De La Soul Refused To Go Pop

20 Years Ago, De La Soul Refused To Go Pop

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of one remarkable year in music.


QUEEN LATIFAH: (Rapping) Black reign, 1993...

DE LA SOUL: (Rapping) But it's '93...

SALT-N-PEPA: (Rapping) I tried rap, now in 1993, I'm living mack stack...

SNOOP DOGG: (Rapping) Follow me, follow me, follow me, follow me but don't lose your grip. Nine-trizzay is the yizzear for me to...

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) So, my man, watch your back, '93 means skills are a must so never lack. Sit back and learn, come now watch the birdie...

MONTAGNE: Over the 12 months of 1993, Queen Latifah, Salt-n-Pepa, Snoop Dogg, A Tribe Called Quest, the Wu-Tang Clan, and more than a dozen other rappers released albums that helped to change the sound of America. Among them was a record by De La Soul that challenged the music industry at a time when the industry was obsessed with hip-hop's crossover success.

Oliver Wang has the story of that album, "Buhloone Mindstate."

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: When the three members of De La Soul began working on "Buhloone Mindstate," they had pretty much had it with the music industry, says David Jolicoeur - aka Trugoy, one of the group's two MCs.

DAVID TRUGOY JOLICOEUR: We had been through the machine. You know, so I think we were truly burnt out.


WANG: Trugoy, along with group mates Posdnous and PA Mase, scored a major success with their 1989 debut, "Three Feet High and Rising."


SOUL: (Rapping) Mirror, mirror on the wall. Tell me, mirror, what is wrong? Can it be my De La Clothes or is it just my De La Soul? What I do ain't make believe. People say I sit and try. But when it comes to being De La it's just me myself and I...

WANG: De La immediately established itself as one of hip-hop's most eclectic and creative groups, especially in their storytelling, says journalist and filmmaker Raquel Cepeda.

RAQUEL CEPEDA: They upped the ante for other people to tell wonderful stories through their music. Like, for example, Wu-Tang Clan, who you wouldn't necessarily put in the same category with De La Soul. But at the same time, they kind of set it up.

WANG: But two years later, the musicians killed off their happy-go-lucky hip-hop hippy persona on the follow-up, "De La Soul Is Dead." The album surprised De La's label, Tommy Boy Records. Dante Ross originally signed the group.

DANTE ROSS: I always think that De La Soul is the first sardonic group in hip-hop. You know, cynical, without malice they saw the ridiculousness in the culture of rap music.

SOUL: Could the drummer have some, y'all? Could the drummer have some more?

WANG: By 1993, fans and most labels wanted feel good songs with crossover appeal. With "Buhloone Mindstate," De La Soul went in the opposite direction, throwing listeners for a loop by recording a song with Takagi Khan and SDP rapping in Japanese, no subtitles no translations.


DE LA SOUL AND TAKAGI KAN: (Rapping in foreign language) Duh-duh-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun,

JOLICOEUR: We went to Japan and experienced a hip-hop that we could not understand one bit, but felt a flow, felt something that made us feel like, wow. These guys are amazing. Not knowing what they were saying, what they were talking about, but you felt the energy and you felt that they had it.


KAN: (Rapping in foreign language)

WANG: The album also included the candidly introspective, "I Am I Be."


SOUL: I'm short. I am Joanne Shorty. I be (unintelligible)

WANG: The song was an accident of sorts, says the album's producer Paul Huston, aka Prince Paul.

PAUL PRINCE PAUL HUSTON: "I Am I Be," I actually made it for myself. The guys came by the house one day and I was just playing music and I kind of passed through that one. They were like, yo, what's that? I'm like, yeah, that's not really for you guys. Let's go to the next one.


HUSTON: They was like: No, no, what is that? And they said: Yeah, we want to write it and use it for the album. I was like, are you sure?

WANG: It was a song that resonated with Kelvin Mercer, aka Posdnous, the group's other MC.


KELVIN POSDNOUS MERCER: (Rapping) I am Posdnous. I be the next generation of slaves here to make papes to buy a record exec rakes. The pile of revenue I create, but I guess I don't get a cut 'cause my rent's a month late...

When I actually heard his lyrics in the studio, it sent a chill down my spine. I was like, whoa, this is you took it some place I didn't really think it could go.


MERCER: (Rapping) Look ma, no protection. Now I got a daughter named Ayana Monay. And I can play the cowboy to rustle in the dough, so the scenery is healthy where her eyes lay. I am an early bird but the feathers are black, so the apples that I catch are usually all worms...

WANG: "Buhloone Mindstate" was lauded by critics when it came out. Raquel Cepeda is a fan.

CEPEDA: "Buhloone Mindstate" proved that they can continue to reinvent themselves. Especially at that time, it was really difficult to be able to release an album that is really so brutally honest.

WANG: It also set the group apart, says former label exec Dante Ross.

ROSS: It kind of made them - it's weird to say - like, almost like an alternative rock band. Like, they kind of stood outside of hip-hop.


WANG: The album took a while to catch on with fans according, to De La MC Posdunous.

MERCER: I've had fans who will come up to us, you know, like way after "Buhloone Mindstate" that came out, and they all say, like: You know what? I remember when that came out, I didn't really get it. You know, but when I had my first kid and when I got a little older, and yo, when I went back to that album, it really appealed to me more than when it first came out.

WANG: In other words, "Buhloone Mindstate" was a slow-burner.

MERCER: It's just like an incense that burns slowly. And then even after it's finished burning, the smell and what it has left is still there, opposed to something that's coming in and blowing up, and then when it blows up, it's kind of over.


DE LA SOUL AND TAKAGI KAN: (Rapping) It might blow up but it won't go pop. It might blow up but it won't go pop. It might blow up but it won't go...

WANG: Maybe in 1993, "Buhloone Mindstate" was too far ahead of its time. But in the years since, it seems everyone else has finally caught up.

For NPR News, I'm Oliver Wang.


KAN: (Rapping) Yup. Yup, big trucker man rolling in town, how you do. How you do? I got the joint to make you jump, because I'm heading eastbound tired of the merry go round...

MONTAGNE: You can find more on the year De La Soul refused to go pop, including music videos at npr.org. And a reminder, too, that you can follow us on Facebook and on Twitter at morningedition@nprmontagne, @nprgreene and nprinskeep.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene.


KAN: (Rapping) Watch the way I say it, ego trip. I changed flavors being butt, but brothers ain't getting it. Get it; or else you're a goner. When I rolls over, you going to have to some want to lamp, 'cause it's the Chattanooga champ. Taking a train. A train. Taking a train. Train, train, train. Taking a train. Train, train, train. Taking' a train.

(Rapping) Now I'm something like a phenomenon. I'm something like a phenomenon. Well, I'm the hourglass cat.

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