Several days after David Jude Jolicoeur, one-third of hip-hop group De La Soul, passed away at the age of 54, members of the hip-hop generation and community are reflecting on his legacy and contribution to the artform.
Jolicoeur and his group are credited with reframing hip-hop during the late 80s and 90s and elevating the genre to new levels. Known also by his stage names Trugoy the Dove and Plug Two, Jolicoeur was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 21, 1968 and grew up on Long Island. He attended Amityville Memorial High School, where he met the other two members of De La Soul, Kelvin “Pos Dnuos” Mercer and Vincent “Mase” Masons.
Jolicoeur had health issues prior to his death and was battling congestive heart failure.
De La Soul’s discography is expansive: eight albums, three EPs, and 26 singles. The group’s most recent EP For Your Pain & Suffering was released in 2016. The trio, as well as their long-time producer Prince Paul, have collaborated with artists and groups from around the world, including Common, A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def, Queen Latifah, Black Eyed Peas, Gorillaz, Little Dragon, and Matt and Kim.
The music they produced and even their names were multidimensional and label-defying: Trugoy is “Yogurt” and Pos Dnuos is “Sop Sound,” when spelled backwards. Meanwhile, Mase is an acronym for “Making A Soul Effort.”
Jay Quan, a hip-hop historian and curator at the National Hip-Hop Museum in Washington, D.C., called De La Soul’s debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, “really refreshing for their time in the late 80s” and the start of the heights De La Soul would go on to transcend.
“It was a different approach, even their subject matters, vocabulary, the production of the music,” Quan told amNY Metro. “I think they were champions of young people who were cool, but had an inner nerd to them, so to speak. Even their name, De La Soul, at the time, was very different from everything else that was going on.”
Those good feelings you feel from De La Soul’s music? That’s to be expected, Quan said. Especially when paired with the first rap records, which released in the 70s and leaned towards disco. By the time De La Soul debuted, rap had embraced a harder-edged sound. But De La Soul’s producer Prince Paul purposely went for an alternative musicality. Quan pointed the use of “King of Soul” Otis Redding whistling, upbeat frequencies, and double entendres in their songs.
“Very clever in their production, the approach,” Quan said. “Where other rappers are a little more straightforward and the first time they say something, you might get it immediately, (De La Soul) is using the same sampling technique as their counterparts, but they’re choosing to sample different music and in a different way — to say something different. You have to rewind it because it could have a couple meanings.”
Take Eye Know, one of De La Soul’s most well-known songs, Trugoy the Dove’s verse, for instance: “May I cut this dance to introduce myself as / The chosen one to speak? / Let me lay my hand across yours / And aim a kiss upon your cheek / The name’s Plug Two / And from the soul I bring you / The Daisy of your choice / May it be filled with the pleasure principle / In circumference to my voice.”
De La Soul was seen by some as the hippies of hip-hop because of the group’s outwards look and initial album artwork. In Mass Appeal’s De La Soul is Not Dead documentary, Trugoy was asked by a reporter, “Do you feel like a hippie yourself? You’re wearing a peace sign.” He responded: “Yeah, I’m wearing a peace sign but that doesn’t refer to the fact that I’m being a hippie. Everyone wants peace and harmony in the world so I guess that’s why we deal with the peace sign.”
“They were kind of zany,” Quan said. “They might have claimed to have come from another planet or something like that. If you read the liner notes and listen to the skits for the first few albums, it was very weird, otherworldly.”
Kamilah Forbes, Executive Producer for the Apollo Theater, told amNY Metro she was and remains a huge fan of De La Soul, noting that she is a member of the hip-hop generation. She said if only she could roller skate, since her favorite De La Soul song happens to be A Roller Skating Jam Named “Saturdays.” Forbes recalls the time she raced to see De La Soul perform while she was studying theater at Oxford University.
“I remember running downtown to a bus with all my little pennies to see De La perform because they were in town,” Forbes said. “I remember being the only Black person at their show and I was in the front row, singing my heart out.”
Forbes said De La Soul’s hip-hop and jazz sounds join a continuum that exemplifies Black history and culture.
“Jazz was always about being a voice of the people but also of the youth,” Forbes said. “How do we rebel against the system? How do we play in between the lines? How do we sit in a world of improvisation? It’s like Black culture at its most beautiful form: a culture of improvisation, experimentation, innovation. That’s what jazz, and ultimately, what hip-hop is.”
De La Soul won a Grammy Award in 2006 for their collaboration track with Gorillaz, and were nominated for multiple Grammy awards for Best Rap Performance, Record of the Year, Best Rap Album, and Best Short Form Music Video.
Following news of Jolicoeur’s passing away, collaborators and fans expressed their condolences and their memories of the beloved MC.
Damon Albarn, front man for Gorillaz, shared a tribute played on the keys for Jolicoeur.
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B-Real, the cofounder of California-based hip-hop group Cypress Hill tweeted:
We lost another legend of hip hop music and culture in my brother Trugoy aka Dave of De La Soul. His music will allow him to live in our hearts and minds as he is gone. But not only was he a great musician but he was a great human being. He meant a lot to us 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/5PlZWX65CF
— B Real ™ (@B_Real) February 12, 2023
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The Amityville School District, where Trugoy had attended high school, released a statement on Feb. 13: “On behalf of the entire Amityville School District, we extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of David Jude Jolicoeur, a.k.a. Trugoy, of the musical group De La Soul, who passed away on Sunday. David graduated from Amityville High School in 1986 and helped to form De La Soul while the musicians were in high school. The band performed at numerous talent shows in and around Amityville, and anyone who heard them knew they would be successful! Aside from music, David was a good student and always well-behaved. The music world – and the Amityville community – mourns the loss of David and his great contributions.”
Quan said he’s looking forward to seeing De La Soul’s music continue to transcend and reach new places. De La Soul’s song, The Magic Number, was heard across theaters as the closing track in the most recent Spiderman film, Spider-Man: No Way Home.
“A whole new generation, or two, of kids heard the song,” Quan said.
And soon, there will be even more access to De La Soul’s music. On March 3 on the 34th anniversary of De La Soul’s debut album, De La Soul’s music will arrive to streaming and digital platforms, thus living on.
“I think we’ve lost a giant, a legend,” Forbes said. “But their contribution to hip-hop and their contribution to culture as a whole will never be forgotten.”