With the legendary De La Soul hitting the Liverpool Exhibition Centre as one of the closing acts of LIMF Festival 2022, Del Pike takes a trip to see if the masters still matter.
For those of us old enough to remember, the rise of young hip hop stars of the mid to late 80s was an exciting time for sure. Rick Rubin’s Def Jam records led the way with their roster of the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Run DMC and LL Cool J, but firmly in the mix, if not a little late to the game were De La Soul, throwing down their debut album, the Prince Paul produced 3 Feet High and Rising in 1989.
Colourful and embracing the second summer of love with their hippy trippy sleeve, and their positive DAISY age content challenging the more stone-cold messages of their gangsta rap contemporaries, the album received mass adulation and still is considered one of the most important hip-hop releases of all time. Their career has seen them working with many stars of that genre and beyond, notably a handful of collaborations with Gorillaz which has introduced them to a new generation of listeners.
De La Soul returned to Liverpool tonight, playing in the subdued Auditorium of the Exhibition Centre, which made for a surprisingly meditative mood, but added to the intimacy of the gig.
First up to a quarter full room was Berwyn, the Trinidad born winner of NME’s Best New Act from the UK award. Playing a mellow and possibly restrained act, there was a feeling that the small crowd may have impacted his enthusiasm. A tight set with some anecdotes about his background and the NME award was enjoyable but didn’t particularly fire the audience up for the party that was to come. “One more song and I’m going to fuck off back to London” pretty much said it all.
Kojey Radical turned the heat up immediately with a short but energetic set. His joy of being shortlisted for this year’s Mercury award for his album, Reason to Smile, had clearly put a massive spring in his step as he embraced the audience, literally at one point, leaping from the stage and dancing in the aisles with the crowd.
Kicking out tracks from his celebrated album, “Silk” being the standout as he stood resplendent in crisp white, sliding across the stage with his beaming smile. Kojey was clearly enjoying this as much as anyone in the room and the only downside was the short running time of the set.
De La Soul appeared with an entourage of a full horns section, two percussionists, and some deep bass, making them as funky as the Godfather, but with one man down. Maseo was working with Prince Paul, remastering their back catalogue in L.A. following a triumphant battle to get the rights to all their material, much of which has been unavailable for some time.
Posdnuos and Trugoy however fill the gaps effortlessly and give as good a show as we could wish for.
Still funny and working the crowd between songs, they create a party within seconds and launch into “Eye Know“, “Much More” and “Stakes is High” with full audience participation.
Despite many empty seats the mood lifts and the stewards thankfully allow the crowd to move forward and party at the front. A cover of The J.Bs‘ “Pass the Peas” may well have been the high point of the night, with the horn section blowing hard and the band having a ball.
A rendition of “Jenifa Taught Me” from Three Feet High, turn the clock back to less PC times. The band clock this and offer a heartfelt apology to the surprisingly high number of children in the audience.
One last run of songs including the Disco flecked “Saturdays” and “All Good” lead up to two stone cold bangers. A heartfelt homage to Damon Albarn in the form of Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.” and a killer workout of “Ring Ring Ring“, from the second album De La Soul is Dead.
A playful intro to their band including mini renditions of classic soul tunes from Roy Ayers‘ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” to Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddy’s Dead“, checking in on Run DMC’s “Walk This Way“.
Should have led to a grand finale but sadly its all over and they are gone. The audience expecting an encore of “Me Myself and I” are sadly disappointed when the lights come on but it’s 11.00 already and time has truly flown.
Despite a short set and a third of the line up missing this was the best party in town tonight and De La Soul prove they have lost none of their original style. With remastered releases on the way, De La Soul are far from dead.
Words by Del Pike.