De La Soul changed my life”, says Damon Albarn as he takes to the stage of London’s Royal Albert Hall. He’s far from the only one either. The New York trio revolutionised hip-hop with their 1989 debut ‘3 Feet High And Rising’ and continued to push boundaries with the near-flawless run of records that followed.

A giddy, goofy trio of high school friends, Kelvin “Posdnuos” Mercer, David “Trugoy the Dove” Jolicoeur, and Vincent “Maseo” Mason injected comedy into their day-glo hip-hop and constantly bent the rules with a reckless sense of abandon. It’s little wonder they were the go-to group when Albarn needed some help with Gorillaz’ belly-laughing 2006 track ‘Feel Good Inc.’

Despite being a constant party-starting presence on festival lineups ever since, the past two decades years have seen De La Soul trapped in a digital limbo, with majority of their catalogue unavailable on streaming services following a series of disputes with their record label. It means their legacy as influential greats has been difficult to maintain, especially when a new generation hasn’t been able explore the rich, musical wonderland they created on record.

Kelvin “Posdnuos” Mercer of De La Soul performs at Royal Albert Hall on April 08, 2023 in London, England. CREDIT: Burak Cingi/Redferns

In March though, De La Soul’s first six records were made available to stream for the first time, after the group reclaimed their masters and had over 200 different samples cleared. Tonight’s gig at London’s Royal Albert Hall should have been the first stop of a triumphant victory lap for De La Soul. Following the tragic death of David “Trugoy the Dove” Jolicoeur in February though, there’s a solemn, uncertain mood throughout London’s fanciest venue.

Addressing the elephant in the room, Posdnous tells the crowd that tonight is a “bittersweet blessing”.

“There’s no need for me to tell you that my brother Dave isn’t here, because he is here with us tonight,” he continues before asking for smiles. “We are here to celebrate our music being let out of jail. We are here to celebrate the life of David Trugoy Jolicoeur… are you ready to party?”

What follows over the next 100 minutes isn’t exactly a greatest hits set, but rather an emotional, ecstatic love letter to De La Soul. It’s chaotic, free-spirited and most importantly, constantly exciting.

Posdnuous is representing the band by himself tonight (no reason is given for Maseo’s absence but health issues forced him to miss a performance at the Grammys earlier this year) but a nine-piece band and a rotating cast of friends keeps the energy high. Mos Def, Black Sheep’s Dres, Albarn, super-producer Prince Paul and even Hollywood legend Giancarlo Esposito take to the stage at various points in the night but it’s all in service of the music.

Giancarlo Esposito makes an appearance at the De La Soul show at Royal Albert Hall on April 08, 2023 in London, England. CREDIT: Burak Cingi/Redferns

Early in the night a joyous ‘Eye Know’ sets the tone, with Posdnous rapping “we can be like The Rolling Stones, just keep going” before a powerful, playful ‘Stakes Is High’ and an effortless ‘Oddles Of O’s’.

Later, a fiery take on Black Sheep’s ‘The Choice Is Yours Revisited’ gets the entire room jumping, even if a majority of the crowd are comfortably over 40 while ‘A Roller Skating Jam Named “Saturdays”’ turns into rowdy hip-hop karaoke. ‘Ring Ring Ring’, a blistering cover of ‘Feel Good Inc.’ and the majestic ‘Me, Myself And I’ close out the night in triumphant fashion.

From reworked covers to timeless bangers, De La Soul’s takeover of Royal Albert Hall is a feel good celebration of one of the best to ever do it. “This isn’t the end,” promises Posdnuous at the close of the night and it feels like he’s onto something. ‘3 Feet High And Rising’ is currently sitting comfortably in the UK Album Charts, the band’s legacy is no longer being “erased from history” and there’s talk of a third instalment of their ‘AOI’ series. For the time being, there’s no stopping the De La Soul party.

The post De La Soul live in London: a feel-good celebration of one of the best to ever do it appeared first on NME.


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