UnSpotified: We Revisit De La Soul’s Unstreamed Masterpiece, Buhloone Mindstate

By: Daniel Franklin

My experience with Buhloone Mindstate begins in the cutout bin. De La Soul’s third classic album is not the debut that all other releases are measured against still (3 Feet High and Rising). It’s not the defiant follow-up that shed the “daisy” image which appealed to so many (De La Soul is Dead).

So, I had lost track of De La Soul a bit by 1993.  Fair or not, as a result of their relationship through the Native Tongues and being the progenetors of jazzy and eclectic beats and samples, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest’s career will always be compared to one another.  By 1993, however, it seemed that Tribe had attracted much of both critical and listener focus by this point. Even Tribe’s success was a bit anomalous, as all attention was shifting from the boom bap of the East to the clack-clack of the West.

The first time I heard Buhloone Mindstate was while I was roaming the aisles of a Chicago record store.  The beats and rhymes playing over the store’s stereo system caught my attention. I couldn’t quite place them, but my fellow CD enthusiast was promptly able to identify Pos, Dave, and Mase. Yeah, so I might have never heard my favorite De La Soul album, but on this day, I took it up to the counter.

Despite having a very consistent career, De La has been at its best when produced by Prince Paul. He is something of a fourth member on the first three albums. He jokes with the other three throughout 3 Feet High and Rising. I’ve always been a bit unclear on where a producer ends and where a DJ begins in rap, which is certainly true for me with regard to Prince Paul and Mase. Sampling Hall and Oates, Steely Dan, and The Turtles don’t supply the sort of cred that so many James Brown records did, but it does mark a group as unique.

This group doesn’t talk about how financially solvent they are. They talk about being late on their rent.

De La Soul have always been nerds. Hip Hop was oddly more tolerant of the different when the “Me Myself and I” video announced the band’s arrival. The band’s image mixed the Afrocentric with hippy with low-fi. And there was always humor. Its listeners often didn’t get what they were laughing at. We didn’t know who they were talking about. But we talked about the Native Tongues as though we did. We could tell something was up with De La Soul Is Dead, though. I’m not aware of De La ever receiving anything less than respect in the rap community. In fact, KRS-One once cited them as the best rap group. But KRS-One also famously bum-rushed PM Dawn, no doubt De La acolytes, for their R&B tendencies. Hip Hop’s most amiable souls have more than once felt called to assume a tough pose.

The climate was changing. Buhloone Mindstate doesn’t show De La struggling to adapt to the advent of gangsta rap, though. Their major dictate is “it might blow up, but it won’t go pop.”

One guest spot from Gang Starr’s Guru explores this adherence to authenticity. But where authenticity for so many others would come to equal how street one is, here it manifests itself in allowing almost five minutes for jazz and funk legend Maceo Parker to solo, with no lyrics.

On the next track, “Long Island Is Wildin’,” two unknown Japanese rappers handle the mic, in Japanese. It’s both New York and worldwide at once. “In the Woods” says, “Fuck being hard. Posdnuos is complicated.”

The back half of the album represents the comedown, best typified in the Michael Jackson- sampling “Breakadawn.” You can find the emotional heart in “I Am I Be,” though. The opposite of the “I’m from the streets” ethos is vulnerability. This group doesn’t talk about how financially solvent they are. They talk about being late on their rent. They talk about letting their parents down and missing them. They talk about letting their friends down. They talk about not judging others who have made different choices. And when Dave says, “I’m the greatest MC in the world,” it’s ironic, it’s self-deprecating. But if all this gets a little heavy, the album ends with one last guest spot, kindred jester Biz Markee.

So whatever happened to De La Soul? Good thing for us, they’re still touring, and they’re still releasing albums that are true to their own spirit, despite where the winds might blow. I’ve been privileged to see them perform three times: once on the release of the projected three-part Art Official Intelligence (where’s that part three?), once headlining the new music showcase Pitchfork Festival (with an appearance by Prince Paul!), and once at Chicago’s Riot Fest, where
a tightly-packed crowd showed their appreciation, but Pos couldn’t help but focus on that one guy who would not be moved. There’s a distinction—De La stopped short of delivering the hits that the audience so anticipated but insisted on connecting with them instead.

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