When I first heard Criminal Minded...
De La Mix Tape is a curious collection of, well, remixes, rarities, and classic joints in Tommy Boy’s recent slew of De La Soul product (see the joint release of Live at Tramps NYC 1996 and last year’s Timeless: Singles Collection). It is also unusual for not being a mixtape in strict hip-hop terms, but rather a mainstream mix of songs left in their entirety. Finally, this compilation does not cover groundbreaking territory for diehard fans as the title may suggest, nor is it as suitable an introduction to the uninitiated as the aforementioned greatest hits package of certifiable “classics”. That said, De La Mix Tape culls a number of overlooked tracks from singles, EPs, albums, and guest appearances that highlight the trio’s consistent potency and engages even the long-time listener. The result is an enjoyable stroll down De La memory lane, especially from the latter end of their tenure with Tommy Boy Records.
As lead MC Posdnous recently pointed out, the group “gave birth to rap remixes”, so it is appropriate that a number of the selections represent alternate versions of De La Soul music. Re-workings of “Stakes is High” by Jay Dee and DJ Spinna roughly bookend the compilation, in addition to the dramatic overhauls of hit singles, “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)” and “Me, Myself & I” that can be found here. Each remix features a producer’s trademark sound while maintaining the integrity of De La Soul’s presence and vision. For example, the two takes of “Stakes is High” feature Dilla’s crisp drum breaks and Spinna’s head-throbbing vibraphones, respectively, but add only slight vocal flourishes—Jay Dee’s take features new verses by Pos and co-MC Dove, in addition to cameos by Mos Def and Truth Enola, but maintains the original song’s sense of urgency, while Spinna keeps the original verses altogether. The re-titled “Piles and Piles of Demo Tapes Bi-Da Miles (Conley’s Decision)” is a sorely overlooked instrumental take of “Ring” featuring a Herbie Mann-like flute solo over that classic Whatnauts beat, thus showcasing the group’s prime sample selection and oft-overlooked funkiness. The recent Badmarsh and Shri mix of “Me, Myself and I” is the greatest departure as it ditches the Funkadelic backing completely and replaces it with South Asian melodies over a shuffling techno beat oddly reminiscent of the B-more house break, “Sing Sing.” A version of “Itsoweezee (Hot)” with a raga twist courtesy of Yankee B rounds out the remixes, but the emphasis of late ‘90s productions may make a fan wonder why those early rap remixes are hardly represented here. From their first album alone, De La redefined the single by packing each 12” with hilarious b-sides (“Brainwashed Follower”, “Ain’t Hip to be Labeled a Hippie”) and remixes that could have easily taken the place of album cuts [“Buddy (Heartbeat Mix)”]; none of those tracks are present here.
However, the compilation’s emphasis on De La’s ‘post-Golden Age’ career is unique in that it highlights numerous “hits that should have been hits.” “Big Brother Beat” was not only one of the stronger non-singles from the criminally underappreciated Stakes is High, but was also many fans’ introduction to Mos Def; even Dove giggles with excitement over the hotness of the then-young-buck’s verse: “When I speak on groups and I’m smooth like Gabba D / Tryin’ to hang out with Dove and catch love in Aberdine / I bag dimes like my man born on August 17 / Life be nothin’ but a river, son, I’m swimmin’ upstream.” The live version of “Potholes in My Lawn”, also found on Live at Tramps NYC 1996, is from the same summer of the aforementioned album’s release, and documents a group both intellectual and in-the-pocket; the three run through this oldie with an updated rhythm in their flow, but keep the song grounded in the old school when the “Seven Minutes of Funk” break drops. The more recent reunion with “Plug Four” Prince Paul, “More Than U Know,” from the hip hopera A Prince Among Thieves is another fine De La balance of a morality tale of drug pressure and addiction over funky and danceable beats. De La Soul became established early in their career for drawing upon these varied collisions of ideas and creativity; these tracks prove that they continue to venture along on this path.
On the whole, De La Mix Tape is hardly essential and perhaps represents more of a label’s attempt to capitalize on both the group’s critically-lauded past output and current creativity (their most recent release, The Grind Date, has received numerous positive reviews). However, for what it is, it collects music from one of the most outstanding hip-hop acts in existence. However, while the compilation provides a great look back, remember to stay tuned to De La. Plug tuned, that is.