On Sunday afternoon, while most of the country prepared to watch the Super Bowl, the news hit that Trugoy, the Dove (Plug Two), AKA Dave Jolicoeur—part of the trio De La Soul—died at the age of 54. No details were released about the cause of his death, though it is known that Jocilier suffered from congestive heart failure. When he didn’t appear with his partner-in-rhymes, Posdnuos (Plug One) at the Grammy’s “50 Years of Hip-Hop” tribute last week, it was hard not to be concerned.
Dove was possibly the most unassuming emcee that ever lived—yet that was only part of his make-up. A dough-faced man with a gap between his front teeth, Dove gave the impression of a person who tolerated, but did not enjoy, having his picture taken. His laid-back countenance, warm voice, and melodic phrasing, complemented Pos’s acerbic, edgy demeanor. Trim, bespectacled — always with the Potemkin glasses — Pos forever has the mocking, insistent look of a question mark. He’s been singled out for his brilliance, and rightfully so. Back in 1996, Ego Trip, the seminal hip-hop magazine, featured Pos on the cover alongside Q-Tip and Large Professor under the headline: “Hip Hop’s Holy Trinity.”
Dove never received that kind of adoration. I’m not sure why. Perhaps he didn’t want the attention. His reserve belied his artistry, which was devoid of cuteness or preciousness. Instead, it was full of irreverence, ingenuity, and bite. Dove’s tone — unhurried but always crackling — is what gives De La that dreamlike quality; a sublime invite to an alternative view of hip-hop culture.
De La’s debut album, Three Feet High and Rising (1989), revolutionized American music, a tour de force of sampling and record-making. In a 2013 interview with Wax Poetics, Dove said: “We were the first to really use that many samples. Eric B., Rakim, KRS, and Big Daddy Kane was sampling, but when 3 Feet High and Rising came out, we had eighteen songs on there, so there were even more samples. I think a part of its success was because we were all sampling from music that most seventeen- or eighteen-year-olds wouldn’t ever listen to. We weren’t always accustomed to all the music we were sampling. We were digging at yard sales, the library, our neighbors, wherever, and that helped as well. We were working at McDonald’s and Burger King to get our studio money. We were kids; so young, foolish, and innocent. We went in there with courage and just did our thing. We weren’t worried about who was going to judge us.”
This was something entirely different from the street life that dominated hip-hop: angsty yet hopeful, playful yet mindful, dead-bent, a meditative yin-yang on wax. On their early albums, De La Soul is Dead (’91), and Buhloone Mindstate (’93) — both masterpieces — De La featured convoluted lingo, slang, and language that was weird, smart, and downright funny.
From “Plug Tunin”:
Vocal in doubt is an uplift
And real is the answer that I answer with
Dying yet live, what you must realize
That the tune that I present is surely not a gift
Different in style is definite
And style which I flaunt is sure legit
Now set aside, I say I hold pride
In performing this melodic misfit
De La’s style called attention to itself because it was so peculiar, but it distanced many listeners. You had to want to go into De La’s world. They weren’t trying to meet the masses, they were too sarcastic for that (unlike their peers, A Tribe Called Quest, whose appeal proved far broader). For those of us who loved them, that was perfectly okay. But the band changed direction with 1996’s Stakes Is High — also a classic — leaving behind their signature obscurity (and brilliant collaborator, producer Prince Paul) for a blunt, far more direct approach.
“I don’t appreciate people lying to my kids,” Dove told The Source that summer, referring to the fantasy gangster life that comprised much of commercial rap at the time. “If we all gonna be in this together and we all trying to get paid and do music, let’s have a bit of respect for what we’re doing and the people listening to it. I know everybody wakes up and yawns. I know people wash their clothes and people mow the lawn sometimes. I mean we ain’t gotta rap about that, but there are other things going on besides shooting and smoking weed. Ain’t there more to life than Versace, Moet and Alize?”
As he rhymes on title track “Stakes Is High”:
I’m sick of bitches shakin’ asses
I’m sick of talkin’ about blunts
Sick of Versace glasses
Sick of slang
Sick of half-ass awards shows
Sick of name brand clothes
Sick of R&B bitches over bullshit tracks
Cocaine and crack
Which brings sickness to Blacks
Sick of swole head rappers
With their sicker-than raps
Clappers and gats
Makin’ the whole sick world collapse
The facts are gettin’ sick
Even sicker perhaps (sicker perhaps)
I stick a bush to make a bundle to escape this synapse
Dove is certainly one of the most overlooked lyricists of his time, so underrated that he never even comes up in “most underrated” conversations. This might be because, as a group, De La has always been so cohesive. DJ P.A. Mase (Plug Three), the third member of De La, traditionally served as the group spokesman. Sure, you can decipher a Pos and Dove verse, but they complement each other so seamlessly — vocally, lyrically, spiritually — that you sometimes don’t distinguish their verses from each other. Unlike Tip and Phife, there never was any sense of brotherly friction or rivalry between them.
When we talk about Dove being underrated, it’s because of that unassuming nature: people easily overlook his contributions. But then if you go back and read or listen to his lyrics, you’ll be surprised at how much you missed.
There is a bittersweet note here. De La’s early catalogue has not been available on streaming platforms because of legal issues. The group has been working on rescuing their classic albums for years—and next month you’l be able to dive into De La’s full catalogue on your streaming platform of choice. For Dove, at least he lived long enough to know that his work would be available to the masses again. For those of you who aren’t familiar with De La, congratulations: your mind will be split open, and your soul will be touched. You will laugh and dance and hear lyrics that discreetly embed themselves into your DNA. You will nod your head as you appreciate one of the finest to ever grace the mic.
De La Soul is dead. Long live De La Soul.