De La Soul Picks Their Favorite (and/or Most Hated) Tracks

De La Soul.

De La Soul.Courtesy of Reservoir Media
In their final interview before Dave “Trugoy” Jolicoeur passed, De La went through their discography and selected standout songs from each album ahead of their streaming debut.

“You got Pos, Dave, and Mase online,” David Jolicoeur told me on a conference call last month. The artist formerly known as Trugoy the Dove had joined his collaborators (and former high school classmates) Kelvin “Posdnuos” Mercer and Vincent “DJ Mase” Mason for a telephonic celebration of De La Soul’s 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising. 34 years after  its release, that landmark album—and five other seminal De La projects—are set to finally his streaming services this coming Friday.

“If you’re ready to begin this,” Dave said, “we can make it happen!”

To mark the occasion, GQ asked each member of De La Soul to pick one song to discuss from each of their first six albums. Amidst much laughter and real talk about the group’s enormous (yet somehow still slept-on) legacy, we made it most of the way through their third album Buhloone Mindstate before we had to break. 

The last time we all connected was when I was interviewing the Plug Triumvirate for my documentary De La Soul Is Not Dead, and I was looking forward to our follow-up interview when, on February 12, the news broke that Dave was dead at age 54 from congestive heart failure. 

Earlier this week, Trugoy’s Soul brothers paid him tribute. “Dear Dave,” Pos wrote on social media, “You were the heart of our group… As we attempt to navigate this world without you, we stand grateful and proud of all you accomplished on this earth.” Mase shared a similarly emotional message: “On one end I’m happy you no longer have to suffer the pain of your condition, but on the other hand I’m extremely upset that you’re not here to celebrate and enjoy what we worked and fought so hard to achieve… DAMMIT DAVE! To be writing about you in the past tense is crazy!”

As a De La fan who copped the “Plug Tunin’” 12-inch when it first dropped in 1988, I second that emotion. De La lives.

3 Feet High and Rising

GQ**:** Let’s begin at the beginning: 1989. Three Feet High and Rising

POS’ pick: “Tread Water”

POS: I would say “Tread Water,” man. Especially in this day and time, I just feel like it’s such a great, positive message. Cause it’s just about keeping your head and trudging on, above all the negativity. And this song is just a lighthearted but really powerful record in terms of cleverly using animals. Dave, I don’t know if you remember when we was young and [legendary hip-hop activist and journalist] Harry Allen had all this stuff to say about this record? [Laughing]

DAVE: Oh yeah.

GQ**:** What did the Media Assassin have to say about the record back then?

POS: I’m talking about when the album first came out. And me and Dave would just be looking at him like, “Man, we was havin’ fun making this record!” Like all this stuff you’re talking about, it doesn’t even matter. Not that it didn’t matter. But it wasn’t what we took into play for the record. 

[GQ called Harry Allen to get his perspective]

Harry Allen: Because of their new way of rhyming, this approach to language, I think that a lot of people may have thought that the album—or certain tracks—were just silly. A lot of it went over people’s heads. But what I found interesting about this track, “Tread Water,” was that the narrative involves Dave going through a landscape where he’s advised by these animals. I found that interesting because there’s a very deep tradition in many African cultures of people consulting spirits through animals, being advised by animals, animals being guides of various kinds. I thought that was a really profound connection. I’m fascinated by the African precedents for Black American music. And I remember Dave saying that as a Haitian, in a lot of Haitian culture, there was folklore of animals being guides, advisors, counsel of that kind. 

And so it wasn’t just like a playful or nonsense song. It was one that actually reflected something cultural and close to his heart and in his upbringing. And obviously Haitian culture is deeply rooted in African culture. Haitian people were some of the first to be dropped off of slave boats. And of course were the first and really the only African people to overthrow their oppressors.

POS: I just feel like where I am in my life now, it’s one of my go-to records right. I really love this record—way more than I did when we first did it. It just reminds me of how you can apply this to yourself as a living being on this earth and what you have to go through. You can still tread and you can be positive to get out of a pool of negativity.

Dave’s pick: “This is a Recording 4 Living in a Fulltime Era (L.I.F.E.)”

DAVE: I’m gonna say, “This Is A Recording 4 Living In A Fulltime Era.” I remember being on my street, 22 Bentley—which is like historical for De La—and Merce [Pos] being at my house, and walking up to the gas station up the street. And I remember him telling me what he was gonna do to create that song. “Yo, I got this sample and I’m gonna add this to it, and this song, and this extra loop here, and that…” And I’m looking at this guy, like, “He’s thinking of putting all this stuff, but is this gonna work?” [Laughing] And then going into the studio and him knowing what it was gonna sound like before we had even laid one track. I was impressed, just sitting there like… He heard all of that in his head! And it being, to me, one of the hardest, grittiest hip hop kinda things that De La had ever did. It was just rugged to me. It was like, “How did he know that was gonna work?” It’s like one of my favorite songs of all time from De La.

GQ**:** So that beat was not put together by Prince Paul?

DAVE: No, not Paul—Pos actually. Pos had it all mapped out in his head. I don’t think we even got into the studio to do that song for weeks. But he knew exactly what it was gonna be.

POS: And the reason why I even thought to try to do the record was I had heard the Great Adventures of Slick Rick album and I was just like, “Yo, this album is so incredible!” And I feel like that album made me kind of doubt what we had. And then that’s when I was like, “We need something else.” And that’s when I started thinking of what would be this song. Cause we had no real litmus test for 3 Feet High and Rising to be like, “Yeah, this is gonna work!” That was the first time I really doubted at that point, would this album work? After listening to Slick Rick.

MASE’s pick: “Buddy” ft. Afrika & Q-Tip (album version)

MASE: For me it would probably be “Buddy.” I didn’t think that track would turn out to be what was known as “the posse cut.” So to come in the studio a couple of days after really meeting and hangin’ out with Jungle Brothers, doing a show with them. And then a few days later coming into the Calliope studio and hearing Afrika just finish his rhyme. And I’m seeing him coming out the booth, Mike G, and Sammy in the studio. And Pos grabbing me by my shoulders like, “You need to hear this!” And pretty much the energy that day, the synergy of what was comin’ together all in those moments. To see the Jungle Brothers working on a song with us was, like, so surreal. Cause they were it for me at that time. Next to Stetsasonic, Jungle Brothers was the “it” thing.

POS: The funny thing is, I still have the pad. I have the actual pad where Afrika was writing his rhyme. And I remember glancing at him writing his rhyme and I saw “Crabtree.” And I was like, “Crabtree?” [Laughs]. And he looks and laughs. He’s like, “Yeah, like, Miss Crabtree from The Little Rascals.” [Laughs]. And I was like, “Oh shit!” 

GQ**:** Was Tip on the record already by that point?

MASE: Nah, he wasn’t on it yet.

GQ**:** And of course the remix became almost the definitive Native Tongues record. Like you said, “the posse cut.”

POS: It’s like Biggie’s “One More Chance.” The original is not the one. You think of “One More Chance” you think of the remix. “Buddy” is the same. People don’t think of the album version, but Mase was just describing the magic rhyming over that Commodores sample [on the album version of “Buddy”]. People don’t think of that. They think of the “Heartbeat” version.

De La Soul Is Dead

GQ**:** So we move from your debut to another classic, De La Soul Is Dead—many people’s favorite De La project. This album definitely brought a whole new energy—everybody was feeling the D.A.I.S.Y. age, and on the cover you’ve got a smashed daisy pot. Something had changed! So let’s get into it—what tracks are most special to you?

POS’ pick: “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa”

POS: On that album, “Millie” is one of my favorite records if not the favorite. Just how it came about. It came from a title first. Me, Dave, and I think Mase you was with us?

MASE: Going to RUSH.

POS: Yeah, we was all getting off the subway. And there was this homeless guy in the subway station with a really dirty Santa Claus outfit on. And when I looked at him, literally the title came to my mind. Just like that: “Millie Pulls a…” I pulled out a pad. I had a little pad with me. I wrote it down. Dave was like, “Yo, that sounds like a cool title, but what would it be about?” And I had no idea.

So then later on, someone close to me went through a situation with their father. I then applied that situation to the title. “So, it could be about this. The girl being molested shoots her father at the end who plays Santa Claus.”

Then months later, Paul gave us a cassette of different beats that could be part of this album process. I remember us being on tour when I first heard that music, and I was like, “Yo, this can be for ‘Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa’!” The track sounds eerie and sad, the way it started with the voice. And then from there, that’s when the journey of writing the story started.

Rest in Peace David Jude Jolicoeur aka Trugoy the Dove.Courtesy of Glen Elf

DAVE’s pick: “Bitties in the BK Lounge”

DAVE: My choice would be “Bitties in the BK Lounge” because it’s like reading De La’s Journal, something that really happened—an actual situation that took place in life and we put it to song. Our experiences working as employees of Burger King definitely adds to it. We worked in Burger King at some point together or at the establishment. And there was so many memories there and those memories spilled onto the record. And even after being fortunate enough to start a career in hip hop and travelin’ and stuff, we’ve also had instances of being in restaurants—or specifically Burger King. I believe for me, my experience happened in Lawrence, Kansas. 

And it’s just kind of cool that we actually documented a moment in our lives and put it to music. Also, what was really cool to me at that time is that we experimented with everybody having a part in that record, but changing the music [for each part]. It was just interesting how we put that song together and also where it stemmed from and what it really, truly meant. 

GQ**:** Even the crack about Tracy Chapman was real?

DAVE: I remember being in Burger King and by the time I took off my hat, it was like, “Oh my gosh, yo! De La Soul!” and all that. And I remember being with Wade, who actually did the ad-libbing with me on that song. Yeah, that was all real.

MASE’s pick: “Oodles of Os”

MASE: For me, it’s “Oodles of Os.” I don’t know if they remember, but the track at one point was supposed to have been for Run-DMC.

DAVE: I forgot that. Because they were looking for beats!

MASE: Yep, and it got denied. There was a little hostility about how it got denied, and I was so glad that we used it for the album. It was almost like a smack back in the face of making a really dope record for somebody who really denied the track out of ego.

GQ**:** So how did it get denied?

MASE: Oh, it was Run. Run denied it. It was probably one of the moments back then, when he could probably say he wasn’t a really nice person.

POS: [Laughs] He wasn’t a reverend.

MASE: The rev wasn’t a really nice person back then. [Laughs] And any new rappers that came along, we was kinda like suckers to him, you know?  Like I ain’t never felt the Love from Run, although I still got love for him. I got love for him, his whole crew, Jay especially. Jay is the “especially.” But Run, he never really showed that love.

DAVE: You know what’s crazy Mase? And this isn’t even to defend him. You know how I look at Run? He’s the one MC that doesn’t give a fuck. “I’m the nicest ever. Fuck y’all.” And I respect that. 

MASE: Yeah, well maybe it’s being misinterpreted—but I do say it in that manner. Knowing that he became a person—like others, but him in particular—you had to really earn his respect.

DAVE: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.

MASE: You just couldn’t come and get his respect off of a hit record or you being a year in the game with a dope album or whatever. You had to really put some time in with a guy like him. You had to be a force to be reckoned with.

GQ**:** Arrogance is almost part of the art form in a way, right?

MASE: Yeah, it’s part of it, but it’s also a setback too.

POS: Yeah, it can be. Definitely.

MASE: One thing I always noticed… And I humbly say this—even in our situation, “Yo, how do you know when it’s over for you?” 

DAVE: Yeah. I feel you. I relate to that.

MASE: How do you know when it’s over for you? But we could all clearly see across the pond when it’s over for somebody else. And when you can almost see it’s over for somebody else and you have such a reverence for them, you just want to help. It was a moment of just tryin’ to be there to help and support keeping a legacy alive.

DAVE: Now I remember all of this. I remember sitting down, puttin’ those songs together. And I remember at the time it wasn’t just like, “I’m about to get a check.” It was like, “Ooh, I could add to this legacy here! I could strengthen it. I can be a part of it.” Yeah, I feel you. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

MASE: Yo, and I’ma be honest. It’s the same thing I felt about “Shwingalokate,” cause that was originally a track for Stetsasonic. With the same experience with Daddy-O, you know? But when that happened I was like, “Hmm, I need to take note of this. So when our time comes…” And when that time did come [on Stakes Is High], we had Dilla, we had O.G., we had people that participated in keeping the legacy alive.

Buhloone Mindstate

GQ: So we move to 1993, which is exactly 30 years ago. A lot of landmark albums are coming out: Enter the Wu TangStrictly 4 My N____ZDoggystyle19 Naughty III, Souls of Mischief, Alkaholics… And De La comes with a jazz album featuring Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis. So where are we gonna go on this record? What’s the first cut you’d like to select?

POS’s pick: “En Focus” ft. Shortie No Mass & Dres

POS: I mean, anyone who knows me knows “I Am I Be” is one of my favorite records of all time. But for this particular conversation, I have to say “En Focus.” That was just fun putting that record together. It was me saying, “Yo man, we’re about to use this sample that Masta Ace had used, and I think he’s gonna love the way we used it.” Like when you just felt like you’re gonna impress someone and they’re gonna be like, “Yo, the way they flipped it was dope!” That was just a really dope record. Even with Shortie already being kind like put throughout the entire album, I just love her. And I think Dres’ rhyme on that was just fuckin’ amazing. After his first take of it, me and Mase was kinda almost upset that he wanted to redo his rhyme. Cause the way he said it, it was just like, “Yo, man, this nigga is killin’ this shit.” And then he kind of thought about actually re-doing it? He did the same words, but he kinda said it differently. 

GQ**:** Let’s talk a little bit about Shortie No Mass, because she’s an artist who really only got shine with De La.

POS: It’s the same thing we tried to apply when [Native Tongues] first got down. When someone would be like, “Yo, it’s this girl named Monie, and she does this…” No one went out their way to prevent the situation. We were always open as a crew of individuals to what we felt… Like, “Yo, this could be something cool to do.” Her voice sounded fresh. It just sounded like, “Let’s kind of like put her throughout the entire album.” It just felt like something that could be cool. It had never been done before.

MASE: At that time we weren’t vetting artists to sign to us or anything like that. It was always in a creative moment. We were in the studio. If it worked creatively, we used that person. And we always made sure people was compensated fairly. And with Shortie on that project, she was sort of a mainstay. She worked with a lot of the concepts and ideas that Pos in particular was coming up with.

POS: Shortie was just like our little baby sister—hanging around and doing the parts she needed to do. On “En Focus,” it was her just talking. And, you know, she toured with us. At that point she had started becoming like family.

MASE: I wish she, um, maximized on the opportunity, you know? She tapped out early, became a wife, a mom. You know, that changes the trajectory.

DAVE’s pick: “Breakadawn”

DAVE: I would pick “Breakadawn.” [Laughs] A song that I will never gravitate to. I just don’t feel it. I just get nothing from it. I think my sentiment somewhere in the back of my mind was, “I am tired of these popcorn radio records that the label is looking for us to do when we have so much more that we can create and that we’re about.” And it’s like… It almost felt like a slave record.

For me, “Breakadawn” almost felt like, “Okay, do that. That’s your job right there. You go do that.” I could never appreciate it for what it is—and for what a lot [of people] appreciate it for. At the time, I think I was questioning how I really wanted to be in the game and hip hop and this career. You know? I think a lot of the truth and the realities and the dark demons of the industry were present. And I don’t wanna say those demons are some mystical Illuminati shit. It was just like you had to do a lot for the sake of selling this product. Opposed to, “Okay, we’re an artist in an art form and expressing ourselves.” And that’s why I’ve never liked that song.

GQ**:** Do you hear it differently now?

DAVE: No. It is a reminder of that stage in life. You know, I was going through personal things as well. I remember shootin’ the video was the worst day of my life. It felt like, “Gosh, I don’t want to do this. I don’t like this. I don’t feel good about myself. I don’t feel good about this music.” I think I was just in a place and “Breakadawn” was just the cherry on top.

GQ**:** Was “Me Myself and I” a record like that too?

DAVE: Not really. I think- 

MASE: -I totally get where Dave is coming from. I feel like “Breakadawn” and “Me Myself and I” somewhat fall into the same category of pretty much a record that the label would want. But both of those records did come from a real organic place. [Parliament] “Knee Deep” was a record I always wanted to sample.

POS: Yep.

MASE: You know, the Michael Jackson record was something Pos always wanted to sample. I remember the record actually being for somebody else that was supposed to come out, so when  Pos was doing the track for this artist that we were both trying to produce at the time, I thought that should have been for us. With my mindset as a DJ, I clearly knew that was the record that would pretty much work for the label. I always felt like for the body of work that we were doing, that was always needed—something to spoon feed the audience. “Me Myself and I” was a record that spoon fed the audience for all the material that we did have. You know? I think you wouldn’t have found out about all of that shit had it not been for “Me Myself and I.”

DAVE: You know, it was pushed in my face how much simplicity and sex sells. Simplicity, sex, and violence really sell. Violence? We weren’t there with that. We weren’t really simplistic [Laughs]…

MASE: But to push this thing over the wall, we needed something simple like “Me Myself and I.” You know? And it worked. And I can clearly remember that it seemed like the more my crew disliked what was going on, the more it was workin’. [Laughs] The more we started to be silly about it, the more it worked. The humor in our music worked. The simplicity that we added to that one song to seize the rest of the catalog, for the time it worked. “Breakadawn” did not work. It was the same type of record, but it did not work in the same capacity as “Me Myself and I.”

DAVE: I think that that’s what I was suffering with. I think that unlike “Me Myself and I,” which is like a song that… Okay, “Knee Deep,” I love that song. I mean, that song is a part of my being and I’m glad that we sampled it. Uh, the Michael Jackson song? I was really, “Yeah, Okay, cool.” And then just feeling like this is a tool. This isn’t a fun piece of art that we worked on. This is a tool and guess what? The tool didn’t work. We blew an opportunity. “I knew it! There we go. Stop this!” That’s how I felt.

MASE: It was a few things to factor in at that time. You know? The music was changing. The game was definitely changing. Here we come with this pretty jazz-influenced record, you know? “Breakadawn” was definitely a mellow R&B cut. Also we waited a long time to put out that album. We literally waited on Tribe. We put out the record. We didn’t tour immediately. Let alone, the blackballing started then. 

POS: Yeah. 

GQ**:** What kind of blackballing?

MASE: There wasn’t much support for De La as it was for the first two albums. So by the time of that third album, it was like a lack of industry support. And then we pretty much had to get the wind behind our back and become really good performers. I think that had been the saving grace for a lot of those records. And I began to see how the records started to work for different demographics. “Breakadawn” happened to become a record that was like a West Coast record, in my opinion. Go to California, it was a record that I kept hearing on the radio all the time. And it was most requested at the venue to perform. But only on the West Coast. So I started to see what records was working for different demographics, and then we started to actually start switching up our show in certain cities. But that record overall had a lack of support from the label, from the industry. And the music was changing at the time. And the culture…

DAVE: Sorry I didn’t want to cut you off, but the funny thing to end cap that… You know, lack of support, lack of the industry, but one of the favorites with De La fans! That’s like their favorite album!

MASE: Yes.

POS: It became a record that definitely I’ve noticed without a doubt with our entire catalog, that Buhloone Mindstate is a record that people will say that, “Yo, this was by far not my favorite De La record until now that I’m an older person.”

MASE: That’s the maturity that definitely lies in that record with songs like, “I Am I Be.” You know, just the style of the record. It’s very mature. 

PUBLICIST: Sorry guys, we’ve got to go now.

GQ**:** Well didn’t get to the third pick, so we definitely have to schedule a follow up for this. This has been amazing. Thank you all so much.

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