Home > Bargain > De La Soul – Stakes Is High

De La Soul – Stakes Is High

Tommy Boy Music, 1996

Aside from their big “Me, Myself, and I” track, the main reason why I fondly recall De La Soul is their “Ring Ring Ring” track from 1991.  Its message about people leeching off of them for their own gains was not as much noticed as the light, catchy hook underneath the lyrics.  Since my idea of enjoyable hip hop is A Tribe Called Quest and the first two albums from the Black Eyed Peas (aka when they were credibly good), I figured that an affordable De La Soul record was going to spin right for me.  I was De La Sold.

According to RateYourMusic, “Stakes Is High” concludes a well regarded quartet of records put out by De La Soul back in the nineties.  I knew nothing of this when I picked it up, but apparently the record came out after one of their main song producers, Prince Paul, departed to do other things.  Regardless of what Prince Paul may have brought, the trio don’t sound like they miss him too much due to a large quantity of really solid tracks.

“Supa Emcees” has a classic swing that can make one bop along to a tune about hip hop posers.  “The Bizness”, featuring an early cameo by Common, has got a simple yet effective bass hook that allows the group to seemingly rap about … I guess … themselves.  Well regardless, tunes like “Dinninit” and “Brakes” keep the good tunes flowing early on.  Overall, the record definitely has a cool, effortless feeling to it that makes it quite listenable.

Given the time frame, I enjoy seeing a few of the cameos from artists just starting off.  Mos Def makes a fine contribution in “Big Brother Beat” while the ladies of Zhane, as in “Hey Mister DJ” Zhane, show up wonderfully on “4 More”.  Truth said, these cameos stand out even more so due to their infrequent number.  There’s only four cameos listed on the seventeen tracks!  Nowadays hip hop artists can’t get away with a cameo-less tune, it seems.  Aside from those (agh) skits.

For all its consistently smooth songs, the title track is the one that really stands out.  It’s got some J Dilla production, the sound of people fervently shaking some dice, and a more upbeat hook.  It turns out to be an aggressive tune about the state of violence, drugs, and poor neighborhoods and how that has translated into the hip hop scene.  That’s how I heard it anyway.  Great tune.

I don’t have a whole lot to knock about this album.  I suppose the only complaint one can have is that the whole record sounds very laid back and, when spun front to back, a few of the songs actually seem to blend together a bit.  But hey, I like laid back.  But most modern hip hop has a really hook-heavy, in your face tune once every three tracks or so.  De La Soul is consistent and, aside from the particularly head-turning title track, most tunes maintain a cool groove.  Perhaps this is what one needs to listen to when they want their hip hop to be chill for awhile.

De La Soul can be heard at their very colorful website or, of course, MySpace and Last.fm.

If the modern sound of hip hop isn’t satisfying enough, or the artists these days all bring the same message, perhaps you could use a listen to De La Soul.  The lyrics make you think, the beats are smooth enough from track to track, and you get the small bonus of listening to something that carries an old school vibe.  Plus, anything that reminds me of A Tribe Called Quest puts me in a happy place.  If for some reason you see some De La Soul lying around in a dollar bin, I highly recommend grabbing them to fill your ears with something good.

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