The rapper and musician David Jolicoeur, also known variously as Trugoy the Dove and Plug Two, died February 12 at the age of 54. Jolicoeur came to prominence as one-third of the trailblazing hip hop group De La Soul. The Long Island suburbanites emerged in 1989 with an album, 3 Feet High and Rising, that landed as a fully formed sample-heavy paradigm shift, its palette and sound and cohesive sensibility utterly different from other 90s hip-hop acts: curious instead of combative, breezy instead of strenuous, wry instead of humorless. Some rappers’ diss tracks might feature gun violence but De La’s were more likely to be built around decidedly suburban metaphors like “Potholes in My Lawn.”
De La Soul bundled its music in bright colors and flowery iconography but the musicians bristled at being pigeonholed as simple messengers of positivity, and rightly so. Even when Jolicoeur filled a track like “Tread Water” with more talking animals than a Raffi song, the lyrical subtext was nuanced and ominous and – in the context of crises environmental and otherwise – urgent:
But the problem can’t be solved
If there’s no one here to help, and no one to get involved
Always look to the positive and never drop your head
For the water will engulf us if we do not dare to tread,
So let’s tread water.
Keeping your chin up isn’t a mindless bromide – it’s a good way not to drown.
De La Soul’s profligate and eclectic use of music samples – Hall and Oates! Steely Dan! Wait, is that Schoolhouse Rock? — was part of their genius but it also caused legal headaches and have kept much of their music off streaming services until later this year. Is that one reason this inimitable and singular act doesn’t occupy as prominent a place in our shared cultural memory as other artists who were so impressed and intimidated by 3 Feet High and Rising when it first dropped? Say no go.