De La Soul (1989)
This is proof positive that some guys weren’t just rapping because they couldn’t sing. De La Soul had a creative vision and a distinct method of storytelling, and they populated their songs with all kinds of ideas, musical snippets and personal philosophy. The very concept of the group (new age hippies doing old-school hip-hop) is fresh and vibrant even today, and this debut covers a wide variety of moods and styles that are all heartfelt and surprising. It was a refreshing departure from the boastful, materialistic cliches the genre had roped itself into. Their message was one of overwhelming positivity and lightheartedness, a rarity in mainstream hip-hop. The trio had very idiosyncratic, humorous personalities, and weren’t afraid to portray themselves as fallible, weird or flawed.
Then there’s their whimsical framing device of a game show, with some hilarious banter and actually entertaining skits. Along with the impressive assembly of musical backup tracks, there’s just a guileless, pleasant charm to the whole record. Unfortunately, it didn’t end up influencing a whole lot of rappers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a notable, interesting LP.
Key track: “Tread Water”
See also: De La Soul Is Dead – De La Soul (1991)