De La Soul was a legendary trio akin to the likes of Run-DMC and Beastie Boys. The group were a critical force in the promotion of alternative hip-hop during the 1980s. Comprised of three individuals, Posdnuos, the late Trugoy The Dove and Maseo, the New York collective, used his ingenuity to produce music that broke the boundaries of hip-hop and encouraged sonic fusion.
Primarily known for their 1989 debut album, 3 Feet High And Rising, it is impossible to deny De La Soul’s impact on rap music. However, some may argue that they were undervalued and even unappreciated during their tenure. Moreover, many may even state the obvious, which is that they were truly ahead of their time. Formed in Long Island, New York, the trio brought a multitude of strange and compelling musical creations to the airwaves. De La Soul used eclectic samples within their productions, utilised quirky lyrics and cadences and brought a colourful, less threatening aesthetic to the culture.
However, De La Soul did not only put out material as a trio; they were also part of the much larger collective Native Tongues. Comprised of Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Monie Love, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep and Chi-Ali, the ensemble embraced not just the African-American experience but explored the world in a far more Pan-Africanist manner. This Afro-Centric spirit had not been seen prior and would pave the way for outfits such as Soulquarians that would emerge in the 1990s.
De La Soul was an amalgamation of different sounds inspired by various people. However, there is one specific individual that inspired their 1989 track ‘Ghetto Thang’, and that figure is Grandmaster Flash. The instrumental for ‘Ghetto Thang’ samples the 1974 track ‘Funky President (People It’s Bad),’ by James Brown, the 1975 song ‘Rock Creek Park’ by The Blackbyrds and the 1977 electro instrumental ‘Trans-Europe Express’ by Kraftwerk.
The song also interpolates the nursery rhyme ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’. Wanting to speak on the ghettos of America, Posdnous explained to Rolling Stone, as the ensemble was writing the track, “it wound up becoming a song that talked about things that happen in the ghettos of America [and then] we said, ‘Let’s make sure we have something like ‘The Message’ from Grandmaster Flash, [because] wow, that’s a whole other level of looking at things!'”
‘The Message’ was released in 1982 on Sugar Hill Records and is widely considered the first overtly political hip-hop record of all time. The song’s release coincided with the beginning of the horrific ‘crack era’ that exterminated swathes of the African-American population, and as such, it struck a chord with vast amounts of people. Produced by Clifton “Jiggs” Chase and Sylvia Robinson of Sugar Hill Records in Englewood, New Jersey ‘The Message’ was written by Duke Bootee and Melle Mel and remains one of the most culturally significant rap records of all time.
You can listen to ‘Ghetto Thang’ and ‘The Message’ in the videos below.