Today, March 3, marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most revolutionary rap albums ever made, De La Soul’s 3 Feet Hight & Rising.
The project drastically departed from the 808-heavy gangster tendencies at the time, and Posdnuos, Trugoy, Maseo and their trusted mentor Prince Paul made it okay to rhyme without having to sound hard.
With their colorful hippy-leaning attire, Afro-centric POV and Native Tongues collective, the trio altered the course of hip-hop by doing the unthinktable.
Just over two weeks ago, De La Soul did the unthinkable (at least, to a record executive) again: they made their entire catalog of music, across a 25-year career, available for free download to anyone that was willing to give up their email address. They included every studio album since their iconic beginning, along with a special collection called De La Mix Tape: Remixes, Rarities, and Classics. The latter had some essential songs you might have missed, but it didn’t have everything we hoped for.
At the start of their career, De La was known as much for the B-sides on their singles as their hits. It might have been a goofy skit, it might be a Native Tongue posse cut. It might even have been some bugged out shit like repeating words for thirty seconds. But De La always kept it fresh by including a little Easter Egg for their fans. So, we’re here to continue that experience.
Put on your best church clothes (or not) and let’s go on a hunt for the 20 Best De La Soul B-Sides.
“What’s More (From the Soundtrack Hell on 1st Ave.)” (1989)
“Tell me what’s more appealing: a fast food job, corn on the cob, or interstate drug dealing.” That line sums up everything there is to love about De La: the enclosed rhyme pattern (did they read Petrarchan sonnets?!), the playful delivery, the subtle social commentary. “What’s More” is bar-after-bar of humorous yet though-provoking rap, making it the quintessential De La B-Side.
“Ain’t Hip To Be Labeled A Hippie” (1989)
What with their light-hearted debut album, the flowered LP cover and their peaceful demeanor, De La had to distinguish themselves from the flower children of the ’60s, and they did just that, with songs like “Ain’t Hip To Be Labeled a Hippie.” Their music was pointedly anti-gold chain and they never shied away from that stance, but as this addictive rarity makes clear, they wanted people to focus on the music and how it made you feel instead of any labels. That’s what D.A.I.S.Y. was all about.
“The Mack Daddy On The Left” (1989)
The youngest member of Native Tongues made his on-wax debut on this joint when he was barely 13 years old. Chi Ali was “The Mack Daddy On The Left” (not Jeff, who was Dave’s cousin), and the big homies let him get off on the B-side that popped up on promo singles like “Eye Know” and “Say No Go.” Three years later, Chi Ali would drop his debut, about half of which was written by De La (!), Black Sheep (!!), Chris Lighty (!!!), and others; peep the reference track for “Roadrunner.”
“De La Slow” (1989-1991)
The first three songs on this list can be found on the bonus disc to the 3 Feet High and Rising reissue, which features a gang of other golden De La B-sides from around the time of their first album. The group included Remixes, Rarities and Classics in their recent free music giveaway, but Impossible Mission flew under the radar as a coveted compilation of D.A.I.S.Y. treats. It’s worth tracking down for songs like “De La Slow,” apparently recorded between the debut and the sophomore album.
“De La Soul’s Poster” (1991)
Also known as “What the Fuck #1,” this was recorded during the De La Soul Is Dead sessions, and Trugoy (still one of the illest rap names; yogurt spelled backwards if you didn’t know) showcases the shrewd storytelling abilities that became more fleshed out on their second LP.
“Buddy” (Native Tongue Decision)” (1989)
The “Buddy” remix is probably the greatest Native Tongue posse cut ever recorded, thanks to the terrific “Heartbeat” break, which makes you feel like you’re at a park jam, along with the all-star list of guests, including Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, and A Tribe Called Quest. Not only does everyone come correct, but every flow is original, too. When old heads pine for the golden days, this is what they’re talking about.
“What Yo Life Can Truly Be” (1991)
A little Earth, Wind and Fire inspiration can go a long way on a Saturday. Imagine a rap artist in 2014 feeling secure enough to make a song with a hook that just says Have fun! Have fun! This groove further proves why De La was so incredible: everything about the song, from the rhythm to the raps, sounds like it bounces off school yard cement, as if it’s born straight out of a playground cipher. It’s easy to let loose with this one.
“Lovely How I Let My Mind Float” (1993)
It’s easy to see why De La Soul is one of the greatest rap acts ever: their first four albums can go head-to-head with anybody’s best four. You could even argue that Buhloone Mind State is the best one, but the energy of their first two projects wasn’t as palpable by 1994. Clear Lake Auditorium, a highly sought after collection of six songs that was left off their third album, showcases some of the vigor that the nonetheless excellent album may have lacked. “Lovely How I Let My Mind Float” is bolstered by Biz Markie’s kooky antics, and in turn De La sounds like they’re having fun behind the mic.
“Sh.Fe.MC’s” is another Clear Lake Auditorium cut, bringing Phife and Q-Tip on board for a standout from the short project. One can assume that they’re calling other rappers female, but consider the phrasing of the hook. Might they have been trying to bend genders?
“I Can’t Call It” (1996)
Appearing on the “High School High” soundtrack, ‘I Can’t Call It’ accompanies rare classics by Wu-Tang Clan, Scarface, Large Professor, KRS-One, and others. The song is about as low-key as De La Soul got throughout their career, creatively employing Jimmy Spicer’s “Dollar Bill Y’all” and guided by basement boom bap drums and what sounds like light keyboard play. It seems like an appropriate song for the time—amidst a soundtrack of righteous teachers, ruthless gangsters, and Changing Faces, De La isn’t quite sure what to make of their place in hip-hop in ’96. Hence, the cynical Stakes Is High that arrived the same year.
“The Hustle” (1996)
“The Hustle” is a landmark collabo between the plugs and Da Beatminerz for America Is Dying Slowly, a star-studded soundtrack that helped promote AIDS awareness. By this time, De La was branching out with other producers besides their chief sound architect, Prince Paul, and stuck with a somewhat muddy, lo-fi sound on Stakes Is High, so Da Beatminerz was a perfect fit.
“The Love Song (Remix)”
Brooklyn rap group Da Bush Babees are best known for their Native Tongues/Mos Def affiliation and Posdnuos produced the original version of “The Love Song” for their ’96 LP Gravity. Here, Mr. Khaliyl gets on the boards while Trugoy and Pos each drop murderous verses, making this one of the best slept-on De La songs of their career.
“Trouble In The Water” (1997)
DJ Honda is a well-known Japanese DJ who released a series of projects in the ’90s that featured high-profile rappers like Redman, Common, KRS-One and more. De La opens Honda’s ’98 album II with “Trouble In The Water” as Honda laces them with a gloomy beat that probably matched their outlook at the time. Plus, the vibraphone can cure anyone’s ills.
“Freedom Of Speak (We Got Three Minutes)” (1988)
“Plug Tunin” was the first De La Soul single ever released, packaged with “Potholes In My Lawn,” and “Freedom Of Speak” was the second song on that single, which was really formatted like an EP when you look at it. This track contains the delicate quality that made 3 Feet High And Rising a groundbreaking album—it’s amateur enough to sound somewhat unrefined, yet risky enough in aesthetic to set a new precedent. It even has the trademark of a dope song—it cuts off too quick.
“Double Huey Skit” (1989)
This is De La at their most fun as the traditional rhymers (Pos and Trugoy) swap roles, to give Maseo and Double B some shine on the mic. Jeff asks why they’re suddenly letting the DJs rhyme, and in one question the entire genius of De La is revealed: they were always concerned with breaking the rules while remaining the funkiest rap group out. And yes, that’s a Muppets sample.
The Judgement Night soundtrack, formed around the theme of rock and rap acts collaborating on songs together, was basically trash, but Teenage Fanclub and De La got it right with “Fallin,” which basically subdued the rock elements to a perfect minimum. If that version doesn’t work for you, the remix will suit you instead.
“Funky T.O.W.E.L.” (1996)
Probably the least known song on this list, “Funky T.O.W.E.L.” comes from an even lesser-known movie, “Joe’s Apartment,” which if you judge by the short snippet contained in this video, looks hilariously bad. There’s also a clever, somewhat hidden theme throughout the song if you can catch it.
“Ego Trippin’ Pt. 3” (1993)
Posdnuos makes creativity seem easy by scratching his verse twice before settling, while Dave (he eventually outgrew Trugoy, Dave said) deals in phonetic wordplay that make his verse sound like a jungle gym. They’re both as fluid as can be here.
“Sweet Dreams” (1996)
With Maseo dropping rhymes, water drop effects, and a Eurhythmics interpolation on the hook, “Sweet Dreams” shows De La innovating even around the time of their fourth album. This appeared on the backside of the single “4 More” with Zhane, an underrated single from their darkest album.
“How Ya Want It, We Got It (Native Tongues Decision)” (1997)
Less is always more, and the Jungle Brothers prove it with this bare bones remix featuring Q-Tip and Posdnuos and Dave. By the numbers, this is a De La song—each member has two verses each. Non-sequiturs and quirky flows arise over a minimal drum pattern that once more puts into focus how De La simultaneously strayed from the formula and still kept it raw.