“We always think things through and put quality into anything we do – we never look to just take the cheque and run.” – Posdnuos of the group De La Soul
Songwriting is one of the most intriguing expressions of art in the world. In modern music, songwriting involves two skill sets: the creation of musical notation, and the writing of lyrics. What makes the song work is the coordination of the words with the music. There are a few gifted lyricists in the music industry, and there are very talented musicians who write great music, but the songwriters capable of writing lyrics and music are most impressive to me. I have written both lyrics and music but always felt more at home on the musical notation side. The birth of rap music brought a more expressive form of lyric writing. In fact, many rap artists exhibited the quick-minded freestyle form, improvisation on top of music. Most of the early (and even modern) hip-hop acts would include at least two artists. Think back to Will Smith of the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, as their second album title defined them, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. As the name eludes the DJ did not play any musical instruments. He had his normal vinyl records and played parts of songs (samples) along with rhythmic scratching and few other outboard effects as the rapper or MC would perform a rhyming speech. Many rap acts appeared in great numbers and more acts that are multi-member started to rise like our featured artists this week: De La Soul.
Kelvin Mercer, David Jude Jolicoeur and Vincent Mason formed De La Soul in 1987 on Long Island, New York. The three formed the group in high school and caught the attention of producer Prince Paul with a demo tape of the song “Plug Tunin'”. The band’s début album, 3 Feet High and Rising, is considered a hip-hop masterpiece. It is also the band’s biggest commercial success to date. De La Soul has influenced many other hip-hop artists such as Camp Lo, The Black Eyed Peas, and Digable Planets. They were also influential in the early stages of rapper/actor Mos Def’s career.
In my opinion, just about every successful rapper today can be considered a brilliant lyricist. However, De La Soul is one of my personal favorites because of their clever word usage in interesting topics. As I prepare to write any post, I make sure to listen to the music of the featured artist, unless they are one of my favorites. Even though I am familiar with De La Soul, I still chose to go back and listen to as much of their music as possible. As you would expect I heard some great music the past couple of weeks. The music is good because De La Soul works hard to create the sound fans will continue to enjoy. Music of the soul.
However, I found that my MP3 library was lacking of much of De La Soul’s older material. That was until February 14, 2014. That was the date De La Soul made their entire catalog of music available on itunes…….for free. Following the announcement came a few articles speculating why De La Soul was making this particular move. First, it would seem to be a brilliant PR move, because the music would be available for a limited time. This would create major market awareness for De La Soul to make their next move – possibly new music. Second, because of licensing issues De La Soul could not sell their music digitally. The group sampled so liberally in the past, to acquire the licensing for digital releases would be a nightmare.
As I read about their digital licensing issues, it seemed like a cautionary tale for rappers in general. Even though the music was cleared originally for vinyl, cassette and compact disc release, it was not cleared for digital release. In fact, digital formats like MP3 did not exist when De La Soul was originally making music. Of course, today it is easier to get clearance for digital release with knowledge that most music is downloaded in digital format. However, what will be the next format for commercial music sales? Who can tell? I understand the thing that makes rap music work is the elements from earlier songs that offer catchy hooks and beats. Older folks like me most of the times identify the samples from songs we enjoyed years ago, while young folks only know the music from the sample. That difference makes life today fun. My word of advice to young rap artists is this: it may be easier in the future, if you take time to invest in original music and beats. I have noticed many rap artists are doing this today.
I believe some, if not all of De La Soul’s old catalog will be cleared and made available for sale in digital format. I also believe there will be some new music very soon. De La Soul will not just take a cheque and run, whatever comes next will be their very best.