If there’s one maxim, one golden rule of hip-hop that everyone from ardent fans to casual listeners has committed to memory, it’s “keep it real.”
In the ’80s, though, the definition of “real” tended to be narrow and serious; in New York, it meant the braggadocio of KRS-One and Rakim, the lascivious storytelling of Slick Rick and the sociopolitical commentary of Chuck D and Public Enemy.
Then, in 1989, there was “Me Myself and I.” Three teenagers from Long Island — Kelvin Mercer (Posdnuos), David Jude Jolicoeur (Trugoy) and Vincent Mason (Maseo) — going by the name De La Soul, injected a dose of positivity and fun into an era of hip-hop that was quickly being won over by gangster rappers. But the group did so without being labeled a “comedy” group, like the Fat Boys were earlier in the decade.
Twenty-five years later, when so many of the band’s peers have gone to retirement, De La Soul is still vital. And it did so by growing up.
As the first generation of active rappers starts to reach middle age, what is “real” starts to shift. Jay Z “rock[ing] Tom Ford” would have been unimaginable on the emcee’s debut album, but 18 years and one part-ownership of a professional basketball franchise later, it makes sense.
“I’m a married man now, with three boys,” Maseo of De La Soul said on stage in Washington, D.C., in 2000. “So responsibilities are much different now than just coming home and worrying about having a good report card. Now, I’m looking at report cards.”
At that point, the group had released four of its seven albums. Those report cards that Maseo dealt with are still there, but the grades are for Calculus and AP Physics, not Handwriting. He’s even got a child that has eclipsed his fame; son Tre Mason was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2013 and is now getting ready for training camp with the St. Louis Rams.
It makes sense, then, to hear Posdnuos talk about the downside of touring in “Trying People,” from De La’s 2001 effort “AOI: Bionix,” with lines like “And my relationship is a big question/’Cause my career’s a clear hindrance to her progression/She said she needs a man and my kids need a father/I’m not at all ready to hear her say don’t bother.”
De La Soul celebrates the 25th anniversary of its debut album, “3 Feet High and Rising,” Wednesday with a show at Irving Plaza. It will involve looking back at songs from different points in the lives of the entertainers known as Plugs One, Two and Three, a surely-entertaining jaunt to where the trio was. But what makes them relevant today is that, no matter where they’re going, they will take their audience with them on record. Really.