In the 80’s there was a brief media to-do about backmasking, the encoding of evil messages in heavy metal records, accessible by playing certain albums backward. If only they’d known about the coded messages of De La Soul. If America’s parents in 1989 had any idea what “Jimbrowski must wear a cap, just in case the girl likes to clap” really meant, they’d be more afraid of De La than Judas Priest.
For any small-town kid in, say, Arkansas, listening to a De La record might as well have been a starter course in cryptography. In addition to the usual hip-hop slang, De La went further to fashion their own inside references and characters: “Jenny,” “buddy,” “Derwin,” “chestnuts.” Factor in Prince Paul’s curatorial approach to sampling, and you’ve got the makings of an album that rewards repeated listening across decades. Every time I catch up to a DJ like Prince Paul by discovering the source of a cut, or untangle the rhymes of MCs like Dave and Pos, I feel like I’m slowly graduating to their level of awareness.
But it’s not all knotty linguistics or DJ science on this tune. This one ain’t about bragging or sticking it to the ever-present threat of sucka MCs. This is the band stepping back and letting their friends Q-Tip, Monie Love, and the Jungle Brothers join the fun, and the effect is something like stepping into a summer barbecue in a Long Island of the mind. So maybe it’s fine that the parents don’t know who Jimmy is or why he needs a hat.
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