Grunge. Wu-Tang Clan. Radiohead. “Wonderwall.” The music of the ’90s was as exciting as it was diverse. But what does it say about the era—and why does it still matter? 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s is back for 30 more episodes to try to answer those questions. Join Ringer music writer and ’90s survivor Rob Harvilla as he treks through the soundtrack of his youth, one song (and embarrassing anecdote) at a time. Follow and listen for free on Spotify. In Episode 90 of 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s—yep, you read that right—we’re covering De La Soul and talking about the legacy of Trugoy with Open Mike Eagle. Below is an excerpt of this episode’s transcript.
A few programming notes here. I have wanted to do a De La Soul song on this show forever, but until recently, I could not do a De La Soul song, because until recently, this show, mostly for boring technical reasons, was confined to only songs available on Spotify. (Which owns The Ringer and has excellent health insurance.) However, mostly for boring technical reasons, this show is no longer confined to only songs available on Spotify, which is cool. But it’s 20,000 times cooler that after an arduous, yearslong, really decades-long process, De La Soul’s full catalog is finally coming to streaming. Their full catalog will hit streaming on March 3, 2023—meaning the group’s first six records, starting with 3 Feet High and Rising in ’89; and then their next three records that span the ’90s, De La Soul Is Dead in ’91, Buhloone Mindstate in ’93, Stakes Is High in ’96; then a couple more in the early 2000s. My editor and producer and dear friend Justin Sayles would like you to know that AOI: Bionix, from 2001, has three of their best songs. I’ll let you guess which three.
This is a universally joyous, heartening, I-can’t-believe-it’s-finally-happening-type occasion. You think about the span, over the past 20 years or so, of streaming holdouts, digital music holdouts, or just digital music absences. The reasons for those absences are often quite complicated, of course. It’s like the major beloved artists that weren’t streaming or selling MP3s, but then suddenly, often with great ceremony, they were: so, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Tool, Aaliyah, Bob Seger, Prince intermittently, sort of, kind of. I seem to recall subscribing to Tidal just to listen to Prince a time or two. And it’s not that we have zero digital music holdouts remaining today. Shout-out Garth Brooks. He’s on Amazon, I guess, but still. My dad loves both Bob Seger and Garth Brooks. My dad somehow might be indirectly responsible for a lot of major streaming holdouts. This is just now occurring to me.
De La Soul and my dad—I’ve never discussed De La Soul with my dad. I kind of doubt he’s up on them, but you never know. I’ll give him a call today and feel him out on this. Quite infamously, De La Soul were not willing holdouts. This whole arduous process of taking forever to get on streaming was not their idea. And De La Soul’s whole deal with digital music is extra complicated and hard to explain, but the gist is that 3 Feet High and Rising, for starters, is, both famously and infamously, just a nonstop litany of rad samples, of other delightful artists and records and songs, and because we’re talking about the relative Wild West of 1989, some of those samples went uncleared, and at least one of those uncleared samples resulted in a pricey and unpleasant lawsuit. Shout-out the Turtles.
But that’s all over with. As I speak to you now, we are on the cusp of De La Soul finally hitting streaming, and as both a purely symbolic and a legitimately practical matter—it’s not like you couldn’t hear De La Soul Is Dead at all for the past 20 years, but it will be way easier now—this is a big deal and a joyous, celebratory occasion, welcoming De La Soul into the fold and onto your playlists.
The other programming note. So, we start gearing up to finally do a De La Soul episode, it’s a crazy long time coming, we’re super excited, and then we learn, on February 12, 2023, that David Jolicoeur, a.k.a Dave, a.k.a Trugoy the Dove, a.k.a Plug Two, has passed away. He was 54. He was 54. 54. Shit. And it’s awful, and the collective grief on behalf of De La Soul’s enormous fan base is profound, and now we’re all trying to balance the joy, the ecstatic release of finally getting these wonderful and tremendously influential and just world-historically fantastic records on streaming. And we’re finally seeing De La Soul get their due, in a sense. They’re doing a ton of press. They’re getting this renewed burst of attention. Their catalog’s gonna be available to a whole new audience. But we’re also now mourning Dave, a.k.a Trugoy the Dove, a.k.a Plug Two, and lamenting that Dave left us at 54 years old, just a couple weeks shy of De La Soul’s biggest records finally hitting streaming. We’re lamenting that he won’t get to experience, in whatever tangible or intangible sense, this long-delayed and much-deserved celebration of his group and of him and of his work.
We’re gonna get through this together. Trugoy the Dove’s gonna help us get through this.
“Vocalized liquid holds the quench of your thirst.” Holy shit. Meet Trugoy. Trugoy, the name, the word, is yogurt backward. He’s like 17, 18, 19 years old. He likes yogurt. So as he embarks on his illustrious rap career, he decides to call himself yogurt backward. This song is called “Plug Tunin’,” the debut 12-inch single from De La Soul, released in 1988. De La Soul, numerically: We got Kelvin Mercer, a.k.a Posdnuos—that’s sound sop backward; of course it is—a.k.a. Pos, a.k.a. Plug One. Then, there’s David Jolicoeur, a.k.a. Dave, a.k.a. Trugoy the Dove, a.k.a. Plug Two. And finally, Vincent Mason, a.k.a. Maseo, a.k.a. P.A. Pasemaster Mase, a.k.a. Plug Three. Mase is a killer DJ, but you’ll also hear his voice plenty on De La records. Plug One and Plug Two, that’s just their microphones. You plug the mics into the thing, right, and it’s plug one and plug two. Yeah, the thing. I know what the thing is. It’s just more conversational if I just call it “the thing.” Here’s what Posdnuos is up to on the original “Plug Tunin’.”
He sneaks another syllable into the word “positively” there. Positive-el-y. Feels important. De La Soul are from Amityville, Long Island, close enough to New York City to absorb the greatness and gravitas and swagger of the five boroughs and whatnot but suburban enough to be, you know, suburban. His rap name is yogurt backward. Unbelievable. There’s that Wu-Tang Clan rap name generator, right? Childish Gambino famously used it. Your De La Soul rap name is your favorite food backward. Simple. That’s right, your rap name is now Selffaw. It’ll grow on you. They are playful. They are charismatic. They are dressed in baggy, colorful, Afrocentric clothes. Thanks to Dave, there’s a chance they might have fascinating, asymmetrical haircuts. They are swaggering. Already in 1988, there are quite strict dress codes, instruction manuals, blueprints, expectations for how a rapper should look, and De La Soul don’t look like that. And especially thanks to the zany and wily and ambitious and musically omnivorous rapper-producer named Prince Paul, they don’t sound like anybody’s expectations for anything.
Prince Paul has been DJing for the established New York City rap group Stetsasonic, and he’s like 19, which makes him the elder statesman in this equation. But Prince Paul’s also the guy whose standard line about himself—and I quite like this line, and I may in fact steal it—he often says, “I’ve been 18 since I was 18.” End quote. I am describing him as zany with all the admiration I can muster. Prince Paul’s the kind of guy who’s futzing around with “Plug Tunin’” and says, “You know what this song needs? Liberace.”
Liberace is about to play “Chopsticks” in that sample. The crowd is delighted. As “Plug Tunin’” evolves, Prince Paul also adds drums from a Kentucky funk band called Manzel. In a couple years, Cypress Hill will use those drums for “How I Could Just Kill a Man.” Paul also adds some James Brown (that makes sense) and a little Billy Joel (that makes less sense). By the time “Plug Tunin’” is on a full-length record, it is a symphony of whimsical discord. I just love the bumptious horns in conversation with the trilling harps here. I think it’s a harp. Maybe it’s just a trebly piano. Meanwhile, bumptious. You know I’m really into it when I start busting out my rock critic words.
That’s Trugoy. “Style of the tune is personal / And defining what’s the rhyme is the worst of all.” Also: “The meaning isn’t muddy.” Talking to Rolling Stone about “Plug Tunin’” back in 2009, Trugoy says, “A lot of people listen to that song and say, ‘What the hell are you guys talking about? I don’t understand a word.’ But if you listen to it, you can get it.” End quote. De La Soul have gotten a record deal with Tommy Boy Records, Prince Paul is producing their debut album (though by design with a great deal of input from everybody), and 3 Feet High and Rising comes out in ’89, and the exuberance bursting out of every last second of this record (with the exception of that one song they hate) just had to be heard to be believed.
That’s “The Magic Number.” “Difficult preaching is Posdnuos’s pleasure.” Later in that verse, with the same level of pleasurable difficulty and the same sense of bumptious exuberance (I’m still doing it), Pos elucidates the concept of a “DA.I.S.Y. Age.”
Yeah, DA.I.S.Y. stands for “da inner sound, y’all,” and I regret to inform you that they’re gonna regret that: that acronym, that image, that association. De La Soul are positive, they’re thinking positive-el-y, but they’re not naive. They’re peaceful, but they’re not pushovers. They’re bohemian, but they’re not hippies. Please don’t call them hippies. This is gonna get to be a huge problem, the DA.I.S.Y. thing, the hippie thing. You better enjoy this relatively uncomplicated bumptious exuberance while it lasts, pal.
To hear the full episode click here, and be sure to follow on Spotify and check back every Wednesday for new episodes on the most important songs of the decade. This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and length.