David Jolicoeur, founding member of legacy hip-hop trio, De La Soul, died Sunday February 12. Specifics on Jolicoeur’s cause of death have not been shared, however he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2017, which he’d publicly opened up about in recent years. He was 54.
Shared in an exclusive report by AllHipHop.com during the evening of Super Bowl LVII, the news came out leaving the group and their management understandably at a loss for words. Eight days later, no official statement has been made by De La Soul until today as cofounder Vincent Lamont Mason Jr. aka Maseo or Plug 3, broke his silence by posting a photo of the day the group signed their now infamous contract with Tommy Boy Records in 1988.
Over the past week, the global hip-hop community felt the gravity of this loss and detailed stories and three decades worth of photos capturing the essence of Jolicoeur poured in across the internet, mirroring a through line of youth. De La Soul has been the soundtrack for not only hip-hop lovers but the fans of music at large since the late ‘80s and across the world.
Long-time BBC Radio 1 presenter Benji B, known for elevating global hip-hop, electronic and soul sounds since 2010 through his weekly radio show, productions and touring DJ rotation, paid homage to Trugoy The Dove on his latest show. Weaved together for maximum impact, melancholy and discovery as only Benji B seamlessly could, the tribute is a sonic journey through a small fraction of the group’s genre-defining classics.
“I’m not sure I’m going to be able to find the words to describe what De La Soul mean to me because there are certain artists certain groups in life that transcend the ability to be described because of how they intersect with a particular point in your life, in a particular time of your musical discovery,” said Benji B, “the contribution truly cannot be overstated.”
Dave’s style was uniquely subtle and powerful – in what he wore, how he rapped and the feeling he left people with through his craft and kind-hearted charisma. His untimely passing arrives weeks before De La Soul’s entire back catalog makes an appearance on streaming platforms after a drawn-out legal battle with former label, Tommy Boy Records, where the group’s music had been stuck in analog limbo for decades. Following a 2021 deal with Reservoir Media, De La Soul’s six classic albums will be available on streaming platforms March 3.
Formed in Long Island, New York, De La Soul completely evolved the global sound and image of hip-hop, incorporating masterfully sourced samples, comedic skits, peace sign-filled wardrobes and carefully selected lyrics delivered in the most playful way.
Creating a new lane for hip-hop, one that juxtaposed the suburban reality of the Long Island trio, a rich sonic history lesson peering through the lens of academia on each record and an implied optimism of what the future of music could look like, De La Soul’s contributions to the genre are priceless. As music journalist Mosi Reeves describes it, Dave “helped revolutionize hip-hop and change the course of popular music.”
Departing from the gangster rap discourse of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with 3 Feet High and Rising (1989), produced by Prince Paul, De La Soul pushed the boundaries of sound using samples from “more than 60 other recordings, including not only Funkadelic and Ohio Players grooves — de rigueur in 1980s rap — but also oddities like sounds from old TV shows and recordings of French language lessons,” as reported by Ben Sisario at The New York Times
The group was a force recognized the world over, as they continued to tour while unable to monetize their extensive back catalog, and Dave’s loss has been felt around the globe, with tributes written in German, Finnish, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Swedish. Damon Albarn cofounder of the U.K.-based band, Gorillaz, who worked extensively with De La Soul, even going on to win a Grammy together for the Gorillaz’s “Feel Good Inc,” posted a somber, tear-inducing piano tribute for Dave on Instagram today.
Culture writer Oliver Wang explains De La Soul’s impact through the lens of Yasiin Bey fka Mos Def for NPR: “Brooklyn’s Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), who also idolized De La Soul as a teenager, explained to me in 1999: ‘They weren’t just arbitrarily creative. They were really intense with mad thought and focus. [No one] thought hip hop could be like that.’”
De La Soul has been the soundtrack for generations of hip-hop fans, an inclusive musical glue for disparate groups across race, class, gender and social status and an open invitation to explore the depths of truth about oneself.
“You sir, shall be remembered as a class act, a gentle giant of an MC and one of the architects of this iconic institution that we call hip-hop music and culture,” – Black Thought of The Roots.
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