Trugoy the Dove played the thankless role of hip-hop’s conscience
De La Soul lost a member on the eve of their music landing on streaming services
David Jude Jolicoeur, better known as Trugoy the Dove of the legendary hip-hop group De La Soul, created a different lane for rappers, opting for eclectic beats with thoughtful lyrics instead of hardcore jams.
As an emcee, Trugoy, who died Sunday at age 54, didn’t mince words. Most rappers never do. But on “Stakes Is High,” the title track for De La Soul’s fourth album, he said exactly how he felt about the state of hip-hop in 1996. While his two partners kept their criticism a bit more discreet, Trugoy said everything with his chest:
“I’m sick of b—-es shakin’ a–es
I’m sick of talkin’ ’bout blunts, sick of Versace glasses
Sick of slang, sick of half-a– awards shows
Sick of name-brand clothes.”
That’s only part of his 10-bar verse, but his criticism still ring true today. Trugoy, aka Plug 2, aka Dave, like De La Soul, played the thankless role of hip-hop’s conscience. Whether directly, like on “Stakes is High” or “Itzsoweezee (Hot),” or simply as part of the group’s modus operandi.
There was, and still is, nothing like 1989’s 3 Feet High and Rising. The group’s first album went in the opposite direction of most hip-hop at the time. De La Soul didn’t come off as hard rocks or compete for the best cold stares in their videos or photo shoots. In the “Me, Myself, and I” video, the trio sported bright clothes, smiled, and rocked “black medallions, not gold” while surrounded by rappers who all dressed alike. While most of their peers fought for gangster rap supremacy, De La Soul presented another perspective. Rather than revel in or profit from Black people’s pain, they exposed it and looked for positive solutions.
What makes his death even more tragic is that in just one month, De La Soul’s music finally escapes purgatory and hits streaming services. Why is one of hip-hop’s greatest and most influential group’s back catalog only now stepping into the 21st century? Primarily because of the sound on which the group built its foundation. Prince Paul, the producer and architect behind the boards for the group’s first three albums relied heavily on samples.
While the group reportedly cleared most of these samples at the time, things changed once streaming came into play. According to the group, they went back to the negotiating table with labels and lawyers with the hopes of creating new revenue agreements on behalf of the sampled artists. And these aren’t obscure loops, either. Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, Steve Miller Band, and The Isley Brothers are just a few names Paul and De La Soul weaved into their fabric. But that was part of the group’s genius.
Their influences went beyond what most expected from hip-hop groups at the time, and they expanded their fans’ musical palettes. As a result, De La Soul became hip-hop’s answer to some of the same groups they sampled. Like Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead, Plugs 1, 2, and 3 stepped into “rite of passage” territory. 3 Feet High and Rising, the immaculate De La Soul is Dead, the slept-on Buhloone Mindstate, Stakes is High, and every album after that feels like secret handshakes for a “cool kids club.” De La Soul’s music fits like the final puzzle piece for anyone going through those crazy teenage years when identities form, and we rebel against norms. Of course, the three Black kids who smashed their images on their second album, literally and figuratively, connected with anyone tired of typical.
“We’ve been different ever since we were in school,” Trugoy said in 1989. “We didn’t dress like anyone else, and we had our own language so nobody would know what we were talking about, so it was natural that we’d do different things with our music too.”
But De La Soul’s influence went beyond production or giving rebels haven. Before “Believe Women” became a trending hashtag, De La Soul told the world what happens when no one listens to young women crying for help on “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa.” The song elegantly tells a story about child abuse, with Trugoy rapping from the perspective of Millie’s dismissive friend. “Patti Dooke” talks about cultural appropriation using metaphors and analogies over a jazzy Prince Paul beat while ensuring a loud and clear message for anyone in the cheap seats. “Oooh” criticizes the music business using playful banter, a Redman feature, a fun beat, and a Wizard of Oz-inspired music video. “Buddy,” one of the group’s biggest singles, celebrates free love while promoting safe sex.
The way the Long Island, New York, crew combined thought-provoking rhymes with alternative production while keeping it all accessible influenced many other artists. OutKast; Kanye West; Common; Camp Lo; The Roots; The Neptunes; Tyler, the Creator; Gorillaz, and even their Native Tongues brethren, A Tribe Called Quest, cite De La Soul as influential to their careers and all owe Posdnuos, Maseo, and Trugoy a football stadium-sized debt of gratitude. Some of those rappers shared the limelight with De La Soul on various records over the years, with Trugoy giving his time and talents to Gorillaz on “Feel Good Inc.” and Camp Lo’s debut album.
While fans and writers might rank some groups higher than De La Soul, those acts don’t have the consistency or public harmony that De La Soul maintained. De La Soul never broke up, never aired their interpersonal dirty laundry in public, and kept making music that rarely dipped in quality. And the Anonymous Nobody, the group’s most recent, worked its way into enough hearts and minds to get a best rap album Grammy nomination in 2016. Almost 30 years after their debut, De La Soul showed the world that old dogs learn new tricks and sometimes do them better than young pups.
And that gets back to the tragedy. Besides the fact that a family now has one less person at the dinner table and two men lost a lifelong friend, De La Soul never got their flowers the way A Tribe Called Quest or other acts from hip-hop’s golden age do. That says nothing about the quality of their music and everything about the music business. The legal fights with labels kept their music off streaming services for far too long, effectively keeping it secret from an entire generation.
It’s often said that the winners write history. The reality is it’s those who show up who do the scribbling. And showing up these days means easily accessible content that someone might find, play on repeat, and evangelize. As a result of their music’s scarcity, De La Soul rarely found themselves high on those “best of” lists that media outlets routinely do. That’s despite the fact the Library of Congress deemed 3 Feet High and Rising culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant in 2010.
One hopes that changes now that more people can learn the De La Soul secret handshake. Unfortunately, Trugoy will miss all the flowers thrown in his group’s direction.
However, just one more fan means at least one more person celebrating his life, career, and contributions to music, not just hip-hop. De La Soul defined an era and provided balance when the genre tilted in one direction. Whether you call him Trugoy, Dave, or Plug 2, David Jude Jolicoeur’s music will live on for multiple generations.