De La Soul was formed in 1987 in NYC, the city where many of the greatest rappers came from and the origin of the genre itself. The group is made up of members David Jude Jolicoeur(Dave), Kelvin Mercer(Posdnuos), and Vincent Lamon Mason(Maseo), all of whom have gone under various monikers and who met in highschool. The first several albums were produced by Prince Paul, known for working with many of the greatest classic Hip Hop groups, such as MC Lyte and Big Daddy Kane, as well as his experimental stuff from a more modern era, including his work with Dan The Automator in their Handsome Boy Modelling School project.
The group found the attention of Prince Paul when they sent him a demo for the track "Plug Tunin" and they began working on the album that would eventually become their debut release, 3 Feet High and Rising, a reference to Johnny Cash's song "How High is the Water Momma." A reference which would hint at their wide range of musical influences that would continue to be shown throughout their career.
3 Feet High, released in 1989, featured many ideas that were quite experimental at it's time, and frankly it still feels rather experimental and different from things released since then. Rather than discussing topics of difficulty and poverty in the hood, gang violence or simply egotistical self-aggrandizing, the band chose to instead go for a more playful approach, providing fun word play and quirky characters. The album even featured comedic skits, a concept that can be found on later works by artists such as Outkast, and would continue to be a signature of the band. The album, and their subsequent two albums, are quite sample heavy and thus are not streamed or sold online and are rarely found even on CD as their rights for the samples only extended to vinyl and Cassette, the two main formats of the era. The album had several hit singles and was both commercially and critically acclaimed.
De La Soul is Dead was the 1991 followup to 3 Feet High and Rising, with this album the band tried to shake off the appearance of a "hippie" aspect of their first album. While the second album covers more dark topics it still retains a generally playful feel to the whole thing even when discussing these things. The band continues to utilize samples drawing from a wide net of genres using both Isley Brothers and Tom Waits during different tracks.
Buhloone Mindstate was their third album, and the final album they produced with Prince Paul at the helm. The album continues to expand their musical repetoire featuring both japanese MCs Scha Dara Parr as well as jazz legend Maceo Parker. The album discusses more important topics of race and black culture. Maceo Parker's track doesn't even feature any lyrics, it's simply a jazz piece, something unfathomable on a rap album. A concept they will partially revisit on their new album which will have a 5 minute instrumental track.
In 1996 the band continued to grow their social message and the album Stakes is High features critism towards the current culture of hip hop and proliferation of gangsta rap's attempts to fetishize guns and violence and commercialism. This led to a beef with Naughty By Nature and some confusion followed by a small clash between Soul and 2Pac over the video Ego Trippin which seemed to contain scenes dissing 2Pac's "I Get Around" including the lyric "I'm tired of the merry go round and round." The confusion was tamped down a bit and posthumously 2Pac's sister has told De La Soul that he was a huge fan of theirs and he just felt hurt and thus, confused.
No surprise that other social conscious rappers Common, and the then up and coming Mos Def would appear on such an album.
Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump & AOI: Bionix were two albums intended to be part of a three part album set that never was finished. The amount of guest artists and producers on these two albums is astounding, Cee-Lo, AdRock, Chaka Khan, and even a return of Prince Paul.
In 2002 the band had a small appearance in the game PaRappa The Rapper 2 performing the song "Say "I Gotta Believe!""
Although The Grind Date was originally intended to be the final album of AOI it ended up evolving into something different and was delayed further and further eventually to be released as a totally different project after AOI was shelved. Featuring no skits the album was a large departure from any previous De La Soul album, it also pared-down the number of guest appearances, instead concentrating on the main original members of De La Soul. It does continue their style of varied sampling from different genres and artists, including pieces of music from Yes, Jay-Z, The Jackson 5, and The Ohio Players.
Speaking of the importance of language and not simply name dropping and ego stroking club tracks, the album and artists themselves remain a force that tries to remind people the importance of Hip Hop as a tool of the people and one to teach lessons, as well as, of course, having some fun.
The track Shopping Bags was actually refused play on BET as De La Soul was deemed no longer relevant. Of course, on the same note, BET also refused to play Little Brother's "Lovin It" as it was "too intelligent" for their audience.
Despite the fact De La Soul has not released an album since 2004's The Grind Date, the band has had arguably their largest commercial success since the early 90s during the mid 2000s. De La Soul came to a whole new audience when they began a collaboration with Gorillaz, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's virtual band. Demon Day's track Feel Good Inc was a massive success, a career high for Blur's Damon Albarn as it is his only track to date to have broken the Billboard Top 100's top 40.
The band has had sporadic releases since then including the track "Get Away"
Although there have been three different albums discussed since 2012, including the already titled album "You're Welcome" with a return to working with Prince Paul, and two different albums to be produced by Maseo, none of them have materialized.
Recently, in 2015, De La Soul successfully kickstarted an album which is titled, "And the Anonymous Nobody." After a slight delay due to getting rights for some of the guest appearances, including artists such as David Byrne of Talking Heads, and a reverse Gorillaz collaboration with Damon Albarn, the album is set to be released this month on August 26th. Until then, you can enjoy their also recently released EP "For Your Pain & Suffering" as well as their first track off of Anonymous.
After saying all this, I need a Luden.