When De La Soul burst upon the Rap scene in 1989, their laid-back vibe, eclectic musical tastes and clever wordplay immediately made an impact for their sharp contrast to the macho bragging and intense beats that ruled the day. Their gentler take on Hip-Hop is credited with expanding the definition of what Rap music could be, and paving the way for future “alternative” Rap artists.
De La Soul was formed in suburban Amityville, Long Island, NY, by high school friends Kelvin Mercer, David Jude Jolicoeur and Vincent Mason, who’d soon be better known by their stage names: "Posdnuos," "Trugoy the Dove” and “Pasemaster Mase.” A self-produced demo, recorded on a four-track recorder, caught the ear of Paul "Prince Paul" Houston, of the group Stetsasonic, who helped the band get a deal with the Tommy Boy label, and produced their debut.
The resulting album, 1989’s 3 Feet High and Rising, was a showcase for the group’s inventiveness and offbeat humor — and an immediate critical and commercial success.The songs were interspersed with skits, and the whole package, from the brightly colored artwork to the members’ decidedly middle-class look, served to introduce the listener to the band’s idiosyncratic vision, which stressed positivity and individuality. At a time when most Rap records were using samples of the funkiest tracks possible as music beds, De La Soul took a different direction, sampling an eclectic mix of recordings that ranged from the Monkees to Johnny Cash to an instructional French language LP.
A sample from the 1968 Turtles hit “You Showed Me,” used on the song "Transmitting Live From Mars," proved problematic for the band when the Turtles sued for unlawful use of the recording and won, collecting an undisclosed settlement and setting a watershed legal precedent.
De La Soul has continued to release new albums every few years, and while none have achieved the success of their debut they have built a well respected career with recordings that have continued to test the limits of Hip-Hop and explore new ground stylistically.