10 Unseen Photos From the De La Soul Archives - Rolling Stone
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10 Unseen Photos From the De La Soul Archives

Behind the scenes with one of the first groups to go against hip-hop’s macho braggadocio

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Courtesy De La Soul

"Just a little love from the Soul." So began today's email from De La Soul, which included the New York trio's entire discography (save 2004's The Grind Date, which was unavailable). News of the tracks' availability broke on February 13th, when RollingStone.com announced that the pioneering jazz-rap MCs were making their entire catalog available for free download in honor of next month's 25th anniversary of their debut LP, 3 Feet High and Rising. "It's been too long where our fans haven't had access to everything," says De La's Posdnuos. "This is our way of showing them how much we love them."

The release of the group's catalog is the first of numerous upcoming projects. In a few weeks, they'll post new songs to their site, with You're Welcome – their first album since The Grind Date – expected to drop before summer. "We've sat a long time without releasing an album," adds Posdnuos. "It's high time we start releasing a bunch of stuff."

Hidden among the files for Buhloone Mindstate and Stakes Is High in today's announcement was the Easter egg "Some De La" stuff, which includes rare photographs and other treasures scheduled for inclusion in an upcoming, untitled book. Click through and preview 10 of our favorite findings.

Courtesy De La Soul

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De La Soul made rap history as one of the first groups to go against the hip-hop grain of macho braggadocio, hectoring social comment and mammoth beats, all while winning respect and acclaim from inside and outside of the hip-hop community. Here, Mos Def (left) and Posdnuos (center) appear in an undated image from the Stakes Is High period (Mos Def was featured on the track "Big Brother Beat").

Courtesy De La Soul

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De La Soul began as three high school friends whose stage names reflected their sense of whimsical in-jokery: through backward spelling David Jolicoeur (middle, pointing) became "Trugoy the Dove" (yogurt, his favorite food, spelled backwards); Kelvin Mercer (far left) derived "Posdnuos" (his nickname as a high school DJ, "Sound-Sop"). Check out the young MCs as they take in a basketball game.

Courtesy De La Soul

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It's tough to discern from Maseo's hard glare here, but De La Soul were initially labeled "hippies" – a term at which the group bridled – but also hailed as ingenious revolutionaries. Their Prince Paul-produced debut LP 3 Feet High and Rising brimmed with off-center inventiveness, augmenting James Brown rhythm tracks with samples from TV shows and obscure recordings, many from De La's parents' collections.

Courtesy De La Soul

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3 Feet's lead single "Me Myself and I" almost didn't make it on the project. "That was the second to last song recorded for that album," Posdnus told Rolling Stone. "[Our label] Tommy Boy was loving how the album was going, but they felt like we needed an introduction song. That was the first time on this album where it was brought to our attention that we may need to make sure we have something that isn't so over someone's head." Visible here and on the following slide are storyboards for the music video.

Courtesy De La Soul

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A Funkadelic beat and buoyant lyrical statement of purpose landed "Me, Myself and I" on our list of the 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time. "One of the happiest party tracks of all time – it just comes on and there's instant good vibes," says Beastie Boys' Mike D. "But De La Soul were really innovative, too. If any group came out tomorrow with this song, everybody would freak out over it." Included beneath this sketch is the trio's most famous lyric: "Could it be my De La clothes or is it just my De La song."

Courtesy De La Soul

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De La Soul's second album was an obvious reaction to the perception that its debut, however innovative, was "soft." Titled De La Soul Is Dead, it took a darker, more serious tone with songs about drug abuse ("My Brother's a Basehead"), incest ("Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa"), and the vicissitudes of fame ("Ring Ring Ring [Ha Ha Hey])." But they maybe took things a bit too far with this costume. . .

Courtesy De La Soul

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In another strange but brilliant publicity move, Tommy Boy Records revealed phone numbers where critics, fans and haters could all hear De La Soul Is Dead's lead single "Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)" in advance of the album's May 13th, 1991 release.

Courtesy De La Soul

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De La Soul wasn't dead, however, as the trio returned to the studio for a 2000 release, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, part of a reported three-disc series. Guest artists included Chaka Khan, the Beastie Boys, Busta Rhymes and Redman, who shared a Grammy nomination for "Ooh," the album's fourth track. The next year, the group followed up with a second installment of the series, AOI: Bionix, but a third part has yet to show up.

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