How do you even begin to sum up the career of someone whose music has been such a vital part of your life when they pass away? You can’t. You can only hope that if you sit down and start typing for a while you’ll eventually stumble over the right words. “Stumble” is a good place to start though. The first concert I ever went to was at a tiny hole in the wall in Lincoln, Nebraska called Rockin’ Robin. I was just barely out of high school, not even old enough to drink a beer, had never even smoked marijuana, and I suddenly found myself crammed shoulder to shoulder with a room full of strangers in a venue sold well past its legal capacity. There was no air conditioning to speak of — or if there was it certainly wasn’t working. Buckets of ice were being passed around over our heads to keep us from passing out from the heat. You’d grab a handful and either swallow it, rub it all over your head and face, or both.
The very first act that evening was a local group named Blunt Society. I would have completely forgotten that fact were it not for the fact the husky lead rapper pulled out a Phillie blunt and said “This is for all the blunt smokers in the house!” He lit up and inhaled deeply, and that already hot bar/club suddenly became a hotbox. This was quite an experience for a young Flash, but my night was only going to get better. De La Soul had just released their third album “Buhloone Mindstate” and were touring to support it alongside Souls of Mischief and A Tribe Called Quest. For someone who had been obsessed with hip-hop music and culture since the age of eight, this was the equivalent of a rap music Woodstock. I’m not saying it’s the greatest lineup in the history of concerts or even rap tours ever, but for me personally it could not have gotten any better.
De La Soul was a group that spoke to me personally. They were rebels within an already rebellious art form. They achieved the heights of fame few rap groups could imagine in the late 1980’s on their debut album “3 Feet High and Rising,” with earworm songs like “Me Myself and I” gaining recognition far outside the locked down formats of the FM radio stations where I lived. Pegged as “hippies” and “flower children” for the imagery in their videos, they purposefully killed that image with a broken flower pot and the provocative title “De La Soul Is Dead” for their sophomore album. I’m not sure if human beings are capable of perceiving perfection in the physical essence, but our writer gave it 9.5 out of 10 and even 30 years ago I would have scored it higher. No group or solo artists has before or since ever done more to convince me they would not be pigeonholed. That was why it was so personal to me. I was a farm kid from the rural Midwest and I didn’t want to be defined by what I had done before any more than Posdnuos, Maseo or Trugoy.
After a heady night of inhaling secondhand smoke and earfuls of classic verses, I left Rockin’ Robin floating on clouds either way. “Fuck being hard, Posdnuos is complicated.” I’ve lived a life in accordance with that creed to the best of my ability. There was never any chance of mistaking a nerdy kid from “the woods” as being a hardrock, but I also had no desire to perpetrate a role. That’s not to say I suddenly gained spiritual enlightenment at 18 years old though. I made plenty of mistakes in my life but through it all De La Soul’s music was always there. Whenever I was in the doldrums I could throw on one of their records and recharge my inner battery. I continued to see them in concert as much as possible from that point forward, and was once even comically corrected by Pos when he asked the crowd “What’s the name of our new record?” and I yelled out “Stakes Are High” in my excitement. “No brother, the Stakes IS High.” The fact we all had a laugh about it made what could have been embarrassing endearing. To put it simply I love De La Soul. A piece of De La Soul is in my soul and always will be.
Maybe it’s unfair to say Rest In Power to Trugoy/Dove/Dave/Plug 2 without making it personal. I stumbled onto this the same way I stumbled in and out of the Rockin’ Robin that night though — with a love for De La Soul as artists and as men. If you didn’t already know this it saddens me to tell you that David Jude Jolicoeur passed away on February 12th, 2023 after battling congestive heart failure for the last few years. This is not officially confirmed as his cause of death — maybe it will be after I finish writing this and the article goes live — but the cause doesn’t really matter. What matters is that David has passed from the physical essence to the spiritual at the most ironic of times, right after a decades long fight to get the rights to their music back. Their entire catalogue was to be issued on streaming services legally for the first time on March 3rd of this year. If you wondered why you could find any classic rap album on YouTube or Spotify but not theirs, that was why. Mr. Jolicoeur isn’t around now to enjoy that victory and that absolutely sucks. Seeing how many people have paid tribute to him since the news broke on Sunday does soften the blow, but fate seems awfully cruel right about now.
It was probably telling that Dave was not on stage at the Grammy Awards to perform “Buddy” alongside Pos and Maseo, but you would have had to tell me he wasn’t as I didn’t watch them. I only found out he wasn’t there after the fact. I’m sure it hurt them to celebrate 50 years of hip-hop music and culture without him, just as it hurts all of us today to think about the fact he’s gone. I don’t tend to hold a Grammy in high esteem anyway given how many deserving rap artists and acts have been snubbed over the years, but I do appreciate the irony that Plug 2 had just such a trophy on his shelf for the song “Feel Good Inc.” recorded with experimental band-not-band Gorillaz. Perhaps he’d want us all to smile and have a laugh right now and say “ah ha ha ha ha!” I’ll try. We’re going to miss you David.