The music community shed a collective tear when David “Trugoy the Dove” Jolicoeur died on February 12th. As one-third of pioneering hip-hop trio De La Soul, with Kelvin “Posdnuos” Mercer and Vincent “Maseo” Mason, his impact on our culture has been profound for decades.
The Long Island group’s groundbreaking debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, arrived in 1989 via Tommy Boy Records, at a time when gangsta rap was making its ascent on the West Coast. Armed with a fresh perspective, inimitable wit, and an endless array of musical influences (plus beat magician Prince Paul in the producer’s chair), De La Soul inadvertently ushered in “The D.A.I.S.Y. Age” of hip-hop — which later came back to haunt them.
Every De La Soul Album, Ranked
After being slapped with the “hippie” label early on in their career, the group aimed to demolish preconceived notions with their second album, 1991’s De La Soul Is Dead. Marked by darker, more brooding music and explicitly mature subject matter, their sophomore effort drew a new line in the sand. De La Soul were way more than flower-loving, peace-mongering hippie rappers. They were serious.
As their pedigree soared, trouble with Tommy Boy was bubbling up behind the scenes. De La Soul would go on to release four more albums with Tom Silverman’s label —1993’s Buhloone Mindstate, 1996’s Stakes Is High, 2000’s Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump and 2001’s AOI: Bionix — but the tension proved too much to bear. By 2004, De La Soul had parted ways for their seventh album, The Grind Date, opting instead to release it with U.K. label Sanctuary Urban. Twelve years, numerous tours, and one successful Kickstarter campaign later, De La Soul re-emerged with And the Anonymous Nobody…, which features Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn, Little Dragon, Snoop Dogg, and Talking Heads’ David Byrne (among others). The record earned De La Soul a Grammy nomination in the Best Rap Album category.
But De La Soul’s first six albums were still unavailable on digital streaming services, and the fight over their masters got increasingly stressful. In 2019, De La Soul challenged Silverman for “questionable” business practices. Both parties had come close to an agreement that would’ve allowed De La fans to stream their most celebrated work, but the plug, so to speak, was pulled at the last minute. On Instagram, the group claimed that a proposed 90/10 split would have sent the bulk of profits to Tommy Boy. Questlove, moved by De La Soul’s plight, launched the #TommyBoycott on social media, which immediately caught fire.
After two more years of stalled negotiations, there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel in June 2021, when Reservoir Media acquired the Tommy Boy catalog. To De La Soul’s surprise, the company wanted to work something out.
On Friday, March 3, De La Soul’s first six albums became available on DSPs for the first time, a hard-won victory that now feels bittersweet. Just 17 days before Jolicoeur died, SPIN talked to him and Mercer about what was supposed to be a triumphant year for them.
At the beginning of the conversation, Jolicoeur touched on his health, which had been plagued by congestive heart failure and diabetes.
“I’ve been okay,” he said. “You know, I got health issues, so I’m dealing with that on and off. But, as a whole, I feel good and just excited about what’s happening now. I’m super excited about the chapter that we’re at at this point.”
Jolicoeur was simply grateful it all worked out. He was especially moved by the amount of support he received from his peers.
“I think most of our peers probably have experienced, are experiencing, or have had an awakening with this De La Soul situation,” he said. “Wholeheartedly, I think everybody is supportive if you’re an artist who’s possibly dealing with the same situation. If you’ve dealt with the situation, you have some empathy and understanding for it. It was nice to see people being honest about it because, in some ways, it’s something you’re just trying to get through. It also can sometimes feel like an embarrassment.
“Like, ‘What did you guys do back then? You didn’t make sure your contracts are right?’ Sometimes it also feels like we brought this on ourselves. But in those regards, it’s brave. Overall, I tried to look at it in a positive way, every time. It was a long lesson. I hate to sound diplomatic and try so hard to be the bigger person, but it was well worth it.”
Posdnuos was equally optimistic. He added, “When the technology was able to turn around and have music be available digitally, our music was never afforded that chance due to sample issues. At one point, the actual label itself [Tommy Boy] was transferred over to the parent label [Warner Music Group]. We’d been dealing with all that but still trudging along, putting out other music. Of course, we wanted to have our music up, so we missed our entire download era. We missed all that. That money can’t be retro.
“But at the end of the day, I’m so blessed to be able to do what I truly love. I’m able to wake up every morning and have that be a part of my life. That’s what helped me not to be so put off and upset about it. But I kept speaking with Warner, who had control over it, and whoever could help us figure it out with my lawyer. I was diligent.”
That persistence paid off — but not in the way they’d hoped. Jolicoeur, their beloved Plug Two, was never supposed to miss this. He was supposed to be right here, basking in their win. But as he stated, it wasn’t solely about them.
“This one isn’t just a win for us, I think it’s a win for our generation,” he said. “Our fans and the generations after, they get to learn, know, and see who we are. But seeing the fans and everybody react to it, I personally felt like, ‘Okay, we delivered.’ We were known to talk about doing a lot of things, and it didn’t always see the light of day. It’s almost like sprinkles to entice our fans and make them feel like we were trying to give them the best — and we are. They were pushing it and letting Tommy Boy and hip-hop know that this is important. So yeah, we all win together, which is great to see.”
It’s not uncommon to see several generations’ smiling faces at a De La Soul show. Their relatability is part of what makes them so endearing. While the future of De La Soul’s live performances are uncertain, there’s a sense Jolicoeur had always known just how special that was.
“That’s been the beauty — to be able to see parents and their children in the audience,” Jolicoeur said. “I’ve never, until now, stopped to think, like, maybe it’s because they can’t find the music online. There’s a school in Chicago with some wonderful educators there, and the students know De La songs. Like four years ago, we did the Taste of Chicago and we had those students come up on stage and breakdance. For us, to know there are kids that young who gravitate to our albums is important to us.”
Anyone who knew Jolicoeur is familiar with the personal pain he suffered during his lifetime. He lost both parents, a brother, and his cousin, Fudge, whom he raps about on the song “Here in After” featuring Damon Albarn, from And the Anonymous Nobody… Whether it was horribly prophetic or coincidental, Jolicoeur spoke about the meaning of the song in relation to death. He didn’t initially like the musical arrangement of it, but he eventually grew to love it.
“I didn’t like the sound or what have you, but you know what?” he asked. “One of the trumpet players was like, ‘Yo, man, I think this is an amazing song,’ so I listened to it again. I think I needed something. My cousin, who was like my best friend, had passed away a couple of years back, and the process of healing was tough for me, too. And that song brought me to that place, to thinking about my cousin. It brought me to thinking about my mom and my dad, who also passed. It was like, ‘Yeah, I’m feeling something here.’
“I started writing, and then the odd thing about it is…that song is called ‘Here in After,’ and it’s about trying to figure out, ‘Where are you? Am I in the transition state? Am I dead? Am I alive? And I’m experiencing duality? What’s going on here?’ But Damon, not knowing what the song title was and not knowing any lyrics of mine, started writing in a similar way as well. He was talking about reflecting and people not being around, and I was like, ‘Well, that’s it. That’s what the song is about.’ This song was brought to us by something.”
Now, as people struggle with Jolicoeur’s premature passing, he can be to others what his loved ones were to him.
“Losing my mom and my dad is obviously a big struggle, but I will have to say the loss of my brother is, like, ‘Man, I would’ve never imagined what that loss feels like,” he confessed. “He was the younger one and passed in November 2021. My brother worked with me. He managed us for three years, and he started working with Common. Up until two years before he passed, he’d been Common’s tour manager for more than 12 years. He was always around, and I saw my brother constantly. That loss was hard, and it’s still difficult to this day. But, you know, I believe when people transition, you got a soldier for you on the other side who [is] trying to move things in a positive direction for you. So I tried to sync with my brother and parents in those regards. Now I just got people on the other side rooting for me.”