De La Soul Takes The Throne at 2018’s Soul’d Out Festival

Last Sunday night saw hip-hop royalty, De La Soul, retake their throne, as the positive-thought trendsetters returned to Portland for the first time in 20 years to close out the 2018 Soul’d Out Music Festival. Throughout their virtuoso performance, they maintained an impressive hold on the crowd, loosening up a stereotypically static Portland crowd enough to move, dance, and laugh.

Hip-hop shows, traditionally, are both kinetic and participatory: to move and interact with the performer is an integral part of the collective experience. De La Soul make no exception, and are one of the few forebearers of the genre still staying true to this participatory mission. Not even security guards are exempt: Plug 1 urged everyone in the Roseland, whether an attendee or working, to put their hands up and be part of the show.

Photo by Sam Tolman

Several times during the set, they stopped the music after only a few bars and directly addressed the crowd. They divided the room down the middle establishing two crews – one led by Plug 1 (Posdnuos) and the other by Plug 2 (Dave). Instigating an ongoing competition between the two sides of the room, they engaged the audience and furthermore got them to suspend their inhibitions and have fun.

Light-hearted jabs and grab-ass skits have always been a key ingredient in the De La mix, and their live set worked in their unique blend of ha-ha humor to really put their stamp on the performance. Everyone in the Roseland was picked-on – an inclusion that brought us all into familiar terms with the three friends; more analogous to hanging out than the typical performer-spectator divide. They made it personal for everyone there.

Photo by Sam Tolman

De La proved why they have maintained and sustained interest for three decades running- the set list, which included many career highlights, offered one glaring reason: consistency. With over nine studio albums, six grammy nominations, and more guest features than one can enumerate, De La Soul have consistently put out above-average releases with tracks that become part of the larger, Capital-C culture that music propagates. Even in 2018, they seem like trendsetters while faithfully sticking to their lane.

Dave had an additional insight, admitting that the option to say “no” has been the real key to their success. Long ago, they reached a level of security that superseded the necessity to compromise their artistic endeavors. This ability to preserve their brand by engaging in consistent output has allowed both their fans and themselves to remain dutifully invested for 30 years. This was not a reunion show to cash the check. In fact, De La Soul are still actively working and recording, having put out their last album only a year and a half ago. They’ve managed to do De La in a way that’s been true to themselves and to their mission since day one, and the exuberant Portland crowd that night is proof they are still riding that De La wave.

Photo by Sam Tolman