It’s been 20 years, and De La Soul‘s seminal album Stakes Is High still holds its own as not only a definitive work by the Long Island trio, but as a classic from that era. Okayplayer spoke to two thirds of the group to get the inside scoop on the times and circumstances surrounding the record, the creative process behind specific songs, beefs with Naughty By Nature and Tupac, and how the album changed their lives.
That record [Stakes Is High] was a milestone, that record was do or die… I mean the whole energy around developing that record, it was a crucial place of not knowing if we was going to continue or we going to be forced to go get regular jobs and become common folk. Get back into the regular lifestyle of 9 to 5 and trying to make it, because we came off of Buhloone Mindstate which didn’t have much success at all. One of my favorite records but didn’t have much success at all.
The change in the business was taking place. That was like a first major change for us. This was around the time all the indies was like, We going corporate. Everybody was doing their mergers. Tommy Boy was kind of the last to do their merger. They closed. They were like, one leg in and out with Warner Brothers. There was things that they would put out with Warner Brothers and there was things they won’t. They still had their hand independently in the game for a long time but this was a time where either labels was truly making that transition to go corporate and be a subsidiary of somebody major.
Buhloone Mindstate wasn’t really doing what we needed it to do. Us and Tribe [Called Quest] was on tour together and, of course, they were just on fire. We were all having great shows, but we both had the same manager, this was Rush Management, Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen. We recall Lyor Cohen sending us down at one of the shows, Tribe was closing and we were he was like, “Hey, I know your album isn’t doing well,” and he’s like, “You all going to have to tighten your belts, you’re going to have to get out and just do it when you’re on the road.”
We had this album that we really, for where we were at was our lives at that point, that presentation wasn’t doing well and a lot of different music was changing. Even our fellow brothers, they hit a stride with their music and what they was doing, you got Wu-Tang coming out and all these acts. The music had just changed in a lot of respects and we changed in the direction we wanted to go. In a nutshell, when all is said and done after touring and doing whatever, when it came around to thinking about another album, another cycle, we were just a little disillusioned. We were just wasn’t sure about what to do.
Dave [Dove AKA Trugoy AKA Plug 3]was just saying, “Yo man, this can almost be like … this could be it for us. If we try to put something else out and the buying public or our listeners don’t bite on it, this could be it.”
We started working on a few things with Prince Paul at the beginning, but a lot of the things that Paul was bringing to the table would be just a little too zany, still a little too funny and we really wasn’t biting on any of it. We was like, “Yo, that’s just not mentally where we are right now.” Paul was just really understanding of it and he was doing what he needed to do with Gravediggers at that moment anyway, and he was like, “Hey fellas, you know what? This should be the time where I just really move to the side and let you all just really control the bus, control the album and figure out how you all … because you all definitely have an actual plan or mold of what you all want and what you all would like this album to be.”