When Stakes Were High For Hip-Hop, De La Soul, Common & Mos Def Got Down To Bizness (Video)
De La Soul has always stood for raising the musical bar. Celebrating its 22nd birthday this week (July 2), the trio’s 1996 album Stakes Is High parlayed the group into its second era of prominence. Three years since their last LP, the work also proved that they were able to put out another great LP without their longtime producer and mentor, Prince Paul, behind the boards. Instead, with Maseo at the helm, De La demonstrated their accomplishments as producers. Moreover, the LP welcomed a budding Midwestern multi-threat named Jay Dee (aka J. Dilla) to the mix. Perhaps even more prominent within the Long Island trio was their attempts to spread consciousness over a culture, particularly in New York, that was shifting from backpacks and stories of trife life to champagne and Pelle Pelle jackets.
Most famously, the album (released the same day as Nas’ It Was Written) created a rift between the group and Tupac, who retaliated to disses from De La’s fourth LP on “Against All Odds,” from the Death Row Records MC’s posthumous 1996 effort The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. Naughty By Nature also felt slighted by Stakes… and created a feud between two label-mate trios.
At the time, the members of De La Soul spoke to what they saw as a shift to the worst in a culture they so dearly loved. On “The Bizness,” from Stakes…, the group was perhaps most vicious regarding the changes they hated that were going on in The Big Apple and beyond at the time. They weren’t subtle about their opinions either. However, “those De La kids” weren’t afraid to let their opinions show on the home turf. In 1996, they performed the song at Tramps in New York City. Assisted by Common and Mos Def (nka Yasiin Bey), the moment stands as a signal of great Hip-Hop to come, and some late ’80s stars standing proudly with some inspired 1990s messengers. With Maseo behind the tables, the performance is a spirited time capsule.
‘”Of course it’s much greater than your Benz or your Lex / The engine to my comprehension is just too complex,” Trugoy The Dove (nka Dave) raps while opening the track. Then the Long Islander sends a diss to all rappers poppin’ Dom Perignon in their videos just bars later. “I have to send respects to real money makers / Do not connect us with those champagne sippin’ money fakers.”
Ahead of his third LP, Common also comes hard on the song during the second verse and reveals himself as a more cerebral MC in battle mode. “Not a hater of the players, I’m more like a coach, or an owner / ‘I Used To Love H.E.R.,’ but now I bone her (huh-hah!),” he raps referring to two of his 1994 singles at once. “At one point in rhyme, I thought I lost my erection / But then I got it back with the ‘Resurrection,’ blessings.”
The song continues with other slights to the champagne sippers, but overall, “The Bizness,” Stakes Is High, and the captured concert represent an important message that the essence of New York Hip Hop was here to stay, even if it had to etch out its own faction.
De La Soul’s Live At Tramps was released to a Tommy Boy Records LP.
#BonusBeat: This TBD episode examines the significance of July 2, 1996 and De La’s fourth album in Hip-Hop: