Few artists get to a stage where they need to release an album to dismantle people’s perceptions. In many cases, these types of albums are known as “career suicide” albums. Think Faith No More’s Angel Dust or Nirvana’s In Utero as a reaction to people’s perceptions of the band based on hearing only one of their songs. Think Kiss’ The Elder as their bid to be taken seriously. Or think Garth Brooks’ excursion as Chris Gaines as his reaction to…something.
In terms of hip-hop, De La Soul was one of the pioneers of the genre, so it was appropriate that the band released one of the first perceived “career suicide” albums in hip-hop. De La Soul is Dead was released in 1991 as gangsta rap was still the dominant force in rap. Before Dr. Dre’s The Chronic made gangsta rap more palatable to suburbia, bands like N.W.A. and the Geto Boys as well as Ice Cube’s solo work participated in a one-upsmanship in terms of their hardness. This left De La Soul even more out of the mainstream than when they released their classic debut album Three Feet High and Rising. In addition to competing with gangsta rap on the radio, De La Soul was dealing with the stresses of releasing a follow-up album to an instant classic, a mass of hangers-on begging them to listen to their demo and the label of being “the hippies of hip-hop.”