Hip-hop trailblazers still high and rising

  • 2004-11-25
  • By TBT staff
RIGA - In this Eminem-dominated generation of hip-hop, few young people will probably remember the huge influence on the genre that the Long Island group De La Soul had back in the late 1980s. But where Eminem raps about the dubious joys of consuming 40 oz, De La Soul started out by joyfully rapping about such archaic curiosities as peace and love.
Anyone with an interest in music should definitely go and see these sadly undervalued veterans when they play at Riga's Sapnu Fabrika (Dream Factory) on Dec. 11 on their Grind Date European Tour.

When De La Soul burst on to the scene with its 1989 album "3 Feet High and Rising," no one had ever quite heard anything like it before. The critically acclaimed album drew on jazz, soul, pop and even psychedelia, all fused together with intelligent and playful lyrics that are a far cry from the tedious machismo that is so characteristic of most of today's hip-hop.

The group was part of the so-called Native Tongues collective, which also included A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers. But while its music pushed hip-hop to new and better boundaries, it never really broke through into the mainstream.

De La Soul tried to ditch its happy hippy image with its follow up album, the considerably darker and more satisfying "De La Soul is Dead," but the album never quite caught on like "3 Feet High and Rising." It peaked at number 26 on the U.S. charts.

The group got even funkier for its third album in 1993, "Buhloone Mindstate," which received rave reviews but quickly disappeared almost without trace. The group went on to release several more albums - "Stakes is High" (1996), "Art Official Intelligence" (2000) and "Bionix" (2001) - all of which were musically fresh and innovative but commercially unsuccessful.

But De La Soul is to be admired for continuingly shunning the tried and tested formula of popular, mainstream hip-hop. As the trio's MC Dave (formerly also known as Trugoy) says: "We're still students of the game; we're still trying to learn and remain relevant. It's good to hear folks call us icons, but for us, we're just trying to be a part of the game, man. That's all."

The group will be playing hits from its new album "The Grind Date," as well as many of the old favorites. Hip-hop wannabes should come and take a few notes from a group that has managed to endure for all these years while remaining consistently true to their often left-field musical beliefs. o

De La Soul Sapnu Fabrika, 101 Lacplesa St, Riga

Dec. 11, doors open 8 p.m.

Tickets: 9 lats (14 euros) 's 15 lats