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We Are The Celestial Travelers - OutKast's ATLiens, 20 Years Later - Chris "Preach" Smith

“In every part of the globe it is the same!! Hatred, fear and 
unreasoning have possessed men’s hearts! But the Silver
Surfer will have none of it!!”

- Silver Surfer


Listening to OutKast’s second album ATLiens, which celebrates
twenty years of existence today, carries a special meaning that
one might think is a bit far-fetched until you put the pieces
together. I tend to think that the second album by Andre 3000
and Big Boi was meant to be a lyrical starship. An album that
was meant to transcend boundaries, time frames and mind
states. And doing so in a way that fully enhanced what the
South had to offer the culture in a highly nuanced way than
what the culture had experienced previously.

OutKast had already proven themselves with their first album,
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Rich with potent lyrics delivered
in confident tones over classic bass-laden production that would
be the calling card of Organized Noise, that first album had
some bangers. I bet you that you still ride out to work with “Git
Up, Get Out” on your playlist. But they still got flack from a
base of listeners who were vehemently anti-Southern rap. For 
what I could tell then, a lot of heads dug what Andre & Big Boi
spit. It struck a chord as we were growing up, getting into those
young lion years roaming the streets of Southeast Queens and
the rest of New York City. And we were already feeling the rest
of the crew through the work of Goodie Mob, who had dropped
music that pierced the spirit thanks to the haunting “Cell Therapy”
the previous fall. So when the first single “Elevators” dropped -
MAN. The effect was an immediate rush that grabbed a hold of
you. I still remember tuning in to Rap City and seeing the music


Starting out with a heavy overture and Andre 3000 and Big Boi
leading a motley group through a swatch of jungle on an seemingly
alien planet? Then cutting to a young Asian-American kid reading a
comic book which delivered the story? “Elevators” was a triumphant
announcement of the new ground OutKast was breaking into. It
set the tone for what you were going to get from ATLiens - a
vessel to connect all of these different instances and elements
that in many ways made you feel as if you truly were an alien
in these United States. And the world if we’re being honest.
The duo hit you with that in so many ways both overt and subtle.
3 Stacks being seen as the above-it-all scholarly slacker who rocked
a turban, Big Boi as the cavalier hustler complete with the fresh Cadillac.
Both seeming to be fundamental opposites yet having so many
similarities in their collaboration. What “Elevators” did was tie
together so many things that mattered to me at that time - good
rap music that made certain situations more crystalline, a love of
science fiction that centered people of color, and comics. At the 
time, I was getting into Jack Kirby’s Eternals more and more in
addition to reading Octavia Butler and re-reading Frank Herbert in
addition to ingesting whatever Samuel F. Delany work I could get
my hands on. This was made a bit easier thanks to being in the
library in college. It helped me gain a further appreciation for what
was said on ATLiens, to understand that it was a message and a bridge.
(Side note - remember when some record stores carried that same
comic book with the album when it dropped? I still wish I had one.) 
Another note related to comics - this was the time when Milestone
Comics, the imprint founded by Black artists and writers, was now in
its waning moments. To have this album in conjunction with that
wasn’t lost on me.  

Think about how the album opens. Think about how real “You May
Die” is, even now with the heightened racial friction in this country.
It was, and is, a lesson, a parable, a balm. Simple, direct. Then you
plunge into the jazzy bounce of “Two Dope Boyz In A Cadillac.” That
track doesn’t get the props I feel it deserves for the feel of the
old-school park jam style of rap thanks to the cadence of both MC’s.
Sit and listen to it again. You’ll hear it. Sonically ATLiens is like being
lowered into a baptismal pool and feeling refreshed and anew with
those first tracks. You feel detached from the world, and that is owed
to the strong influences of dub, funk a la Parliament and reggae as
well as R&B from Earth, Wind & Fire. That last group factors into it
heavily because they along with George Clinton were the torchbearers
of space-inspired music with Sun Ra as the father. If you can, as I do,
remember growing up in a household where every Earth, Wind and
Fire album was treated with care and placed in a prominent spot in
your parents’ vinyl collection you know where I’m going with this.
And themes of space weren’t solely brought forth in rap by OutKast -
Eightball & MJG, Kool Keith, and many others were advancing that
concept(including the Nuwabian movement led by the infamous Dr.


As ATLiens continues on, that feeling of floating still takes hold
despite the tempo changes to create a truly mystical listening 
experience. “Wheelz Of Steel” was one of the few tracks not
produced by Organized Noise, but by Earthtone Ideas which
turned out to be a team of producers composed of Big Boi and
Andre 3000 along with Mr. DJ who contributed the scratches.
(Side note - I will forever remember my boy Govna from college
out of New Rochelle who made this his personal anthem anywhere
he went.) For me, “Babylon” still strikes hard and should be
regarded as one of Andre’s best verses ever just from how it begins:

I came into this world high as a bird
from secondhand cocaine powder
I know it sounds absurd
I never tooted but its in my veins

Let’s consider that for a second. These lines were delivered in a
time where we were not only just dealing with the after-effects
of the crack epidemic inflicted on us, but right as the rest of the
nation was beginning to plunge into crystal meth in the heartlands
and heroin was rising in the suburbs. “Babylon” itself is both a
sermon of keeping aware and keeping faith and a gripping
commentary from both rappers as to what really goes on beneath
the surface. To transition from that to “Wailin”? Pure dopeness.
“Wailin” is a Big Boi showcase, one that to me, proves that he
could be one of the most crackin’ battle rappers if he chose to have
been. And to close off that verse with a nod to the O.J. Simpson trial
which was still fresh on many minds? Superb. Then “Decatur Psalm”
punctuated with the sound of dropping into water?! Hearing all of
these cues 20 years later is for lack of a better term, mind-blowing.
And the emotional closing that “13th Floor/Growing Old” brings -
I have to admit that in a down period where I lost my Grandma
Smith, this was one of the tracks I leaned on to cope. The track
speaks directly to longevity and accepting the wisdom and maturity
that comes with age. Containing spoken word from Big Rube also
made an impact on me as I began to embrace poetry as a means to
amplify my own voice.  

ATLiens accomplished a great deal in that it helped to bridge a great
many things within the Black experience that at times seemed as
if they didn’t fit. It helped in further establishing Atlanta as that 
second great Black Mecca of the United States as it should rightfully
be seen not just on a musical level. You can see its influence today
in the vast nation of “blerds” online. It elevated Big Boi and Andre
3000 to veritable icons within rap and music as a whole. Both have
been on record as saying that they wanted to create an album that
would speak to their children and the next generation, one that
wouldn’t be solely concerned with the rising materialism being promoted
as the standard goals of rap music. From that point on, they didn’t just
look to the stars, they were firmly among them. And they showed us
that we could - and should be too. They told us we are the celestial 
travelers with ATLiens. And this is only part of the journey. 



Ryan Lochte & The Tide Of White Privilege Abroad - Chris "Preach" Smith

Photo Credit: NBC Olympics

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games are almost at
their end, and have gone on with all of the drama
one expects from the sporting spectacle and quite
a few standout moments. The International Olympic
Committee probably felt as if they were going to
see it end without any major controversy, given the
global speculation about the safety of athletes and
the fact that Brazil is currently in the throes of a
major political scandal with their former president,
Dilma Rousseff, impeached and awaiting trial under
a cloud of possible corruption from her opponents.
They figured they’d be home free.

Ryan Lochte has proven them wrong.


Lochte, the heraled American swimmer along with
his teammates Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and
Jimmy Conger claimed that they were robbed at
gunpoint this past Sunday night while returning
from a party at Club France to the Olympic Village.
In first hearing the story, it was curious how Lochte
made this claim and the Rio committee stated that
it wasn’t the case. Even more curious was Lochte’s
claim that he was like, “whatever” when a gun was
pointed to his head. After a few hours in the news,
the incident was picked up by global media and Lochte
faced a barrage of questions. The heat was on, and
apparently too much for him as he left the country.
Which was right before a Brazilian judge ordered that
he face questioning and not leave until he did. This
resulted in Bentz and Conger being pulled from their
flight home last evening. Feigen is still unaccounted
for at last report. And now it’s been found that the
entire “robbery” was one big fat lie, constructed for
the purpose of hiding a drunken altercation at a gas
station that apparently had Lochte and the other three
on tape getting into it with the staff at the station.
Complete with a broken door and pissing on the sidewalk
and cash to cover it all up. Yet there are still media
outlets who won’t call this what it is - criminally negligent
behavior unworthy of an athlete representing their
country. You have Mario Andrada stating that there are
no apologies needed, saying “We have to understand
that these kids are here to have fun.” For the record,
Lochte is 32.

Ryan Lochte has essentially thrown a cherry bomb into
the powderkeg that has been a bit dormant at the core
of these Olympic Games with these actions and further
added to a growing amount of voices questioning why
we should have the Games in the first place. Another
larger issue is at play here. Lochte didn’t just become 
another douchebag dudebro athlete with this. What he
has done is essentially exert a cutlass of privilege. Lying 
about being robbed in a city that has been known to
have an extreme amount of crime for decades is one thing,
but cast in the prism of being a white American in a foreign
city with a significant African heritage is heinous. It is
the triple privilege of being a white American athlete that
allowed him to do this and rope his teammates into it as

Photo Credit: USA TODAY

There have been precedents for this kind of behavior,
both hundreds of years in the making and now in
the present day. Think about how many stories you
have heard with international incidents of bad behavior
in other nations. How many stories have you heard
like this or this? It’s mainly been those that aren’t of
color, for various reasons. Then there’s an uproar over
how that nation treats them. I’ve been fortunate enough
to travel a bit, and I’ve seen the attitudes of some of
these people firsthand. Especially when they get sloshed.
Think about Brazil, and how much of this they’ve seen
in cities like Rio and Sao Paulo among others. Hell, just
go back to when you were in college and the tales you
heard after spring break. Lochte and these others could’ve
been hurt or hurt someone else, especially with the fact
that they fought a security guards. It’s as if the old maxim “free,
white and over the age” is still in effect. Which makes
this all the more wrong. It does shed a light on what is
deemed important by officials though. And it points out a certain 
hypocrisy among certain media outlets, and from those
here in the States as well who are sitting in bewilderment
over this major fabrication yet found more than a few
words to direct at Gabby Douglas for not holding her hand
over her heart after winning gold with her teammates in
women’s gymnastics. Nasty, hateful words that made her
teary-eyed at a press conference in a moment where the
nation should be lifting her up for representing them with
class and dignity. This incident by Lochte underscores the
sheer arrogance and meanness that unfortunately has
become stock and trade of some of our less humane fellow
Americans that we like to tuck away every four years for
these events. It’s also not a good look considering the 
bad behavior of some of our tourists abroad and even
a few of our Secret Service personnel in the past few
years especially in South America. Lastly, this behavior
rings deadly in a climate where in this country, you have
children of color being shot dead on the assumption that
they are criminals at first glance. What message do you
think this sends if Lochte isn’t held accountable?  

Lochte should be stripped of the medals he earned from
these Games and banned from competition for a year.
But it’s doubtful that will happen. Athletes are useful, until
they aren’t, especially those in the international spotlight.
In an Olympic Games where Black athletes, especially the
women, have proven their excellence once again, it should
behoove the U.S. Olympic Committee to get in front of
this and censure all four for their behavior.  Stem the tide
of white privilege, American style if only a little.  






Dummies On Demand - Chris "Preach" Smith

Photo Credit: TheRapFest

About two weeks ago, the world caught a slight break on Sunday
from the political and social madness. This break came in the form
of two superfans - or super-stupid fans if you will - of Drake who
were so into the ongoing tiff between he and veteran MC and 1/4
of Slaughterhouse, Joe Budden that they decided to prank Joe. By
rolling up on him as he pulled into his driveway. You can guess how
it turned out from the lead photo above, but take a look at the
footage from the vantage point of these trolling buffoons:


Budden literally chased them down and had to repeatedly tell
them the next time someone would get seriously hurt. Of course,
he did this while throwing rocks at the car and causing some..
spillage on behalf of the once-brave Drake stans no doubt. He wound
up going to the house of one of the individuals afterwards and
spoke to him along with his parents, stressing to him the dangers
of doing something so outrageously dumb and dangerous. In
an interview after the incident, Joe did note that he had noticed
them hanging around the entire day and that it wasn’t hard
for him to find out where one of them lived:  “Because the Internet
will tell you everything that you need to know about someone.” 
The situation spawned a serious wave of memes that we all
enjoyed including Budden. Hell, he’s even making some paper
off of it
. But the underlying tone to this situation is one that 
should really make you pause. Especially when in combination
with another viral situation that took place that same weekend.

Photo Credit:

The man in the photo above is a struggling rapper who goes
by the name of Kasper Knight. This genius decided that the
best way to shoot up the ranks of the rap game and to prove
his “realness” was to shoot himself in the face on video. In
case you can’t believe what you just read, he SHOT HIMSELF
IN THE FACE ON VIDEO. Then he uploaded it to his Facebook
page. After a wave of comments that ranged from horror to
disbelief, this cat decided to upload a second video all bloodied
and stitched up, even remarking that he might’ve swallowed
the bullet. He went on to eseentially dump all over his family
and friends, claiming “Your care for my life will never supersede
my disregard for it.” Knight even took WorldStar Hip Hop to 
task for not showing the video, claiming it was a racially-motivated
decision. At last word, police in Indiana were investigating.

As we’re in an era where all it takes is a short video clip to be
famous (take Antoine Dodson or Chewbacca Mom for example),
you can sit and say that this is par for the course. But then
you would be numb to, and dismiss something more important.
There are idiots out here, a nation of them, who wouldn’t mind
putting themselves and others at risk for fame and imaginary
success. I mean, when it comes to someone like Kasper Knight,
we can shake our heads at how incredibly stupid he is. But the
real question is, can you really laugh at someone who has that
much disregard for himself and others? He originally wanted to
have someone shoot him in the face for a music video. Can you
really look at someone like that and not wonder if he’d want to
go on a spree of shooting others for “shock value”? As for the
teens who stalked Joe Budden, that could’ve went sideways
really fast. Suppose Budden had a piece on him and was inclined
to feel like his life was threatened? You would’ve had someone in
the hopsital or the morgue and Budden in jail if he let off a shot
or two. And then there would’ve been comments from that crowd
that despises anything Black and/or rap-related quick to call him
a “thug” or “senseless” among other things.

The bottom line is, it gets to be a problem when you have such
an emphasis on quick viral videos as a way to gain fame and
money. It sometimes means that Black & Brown communities
get preyed upon the most in these videos, mainly by those who
are white or otherwise willfully ignorant enough to view them
as fodder to get clicks and views. I still remember seething when
there were two guys who felt it would be funny to go around
tougher areas of Brooklyn and step on people’s sneakers to get
a rise out of people. It wasn’t cool then and it isn’t cool now.
Look at that video of Budden and the OVO teens. Even as he’s
confronting them, the main one goes “okay, but follow me on
Twitter!!” And let’s face it, that fool may wind up being in a role
where he’s going to make decisions that impact you or me. Look
at your current election season for proof. You have to be careful
when dummies on demand are willing to go to any lengths for
some shine. In these days and times, it could be more dangerous
than hilarious.  




Mourning, Burning - Chris "Preach" Smith

Photo Credit: The Portland Mercury

The cruelties of property and privilege are always more ferocious
than the revenges of poverty and oppression. For the one aims at
perpetuating resented injustice, the other is merely a momentary
passion soon appeased.

- C.L.R. James

Have you ever written with tears in your eyes? I
mean, real burning tears that refuse to fall? If so,
then you now know the state that this article is
being written in. Despite that, I am writing because
that’s my weapon. It is my service to you, the 
readers, the people.

I am writing this because the fire behind this wall
of water in my eyes, fire that is stomping unabated
in my bloodstream borne of anger, demands it. It
is an anger, and a sorrow that I share with a great
many Black and Brown folk all over these United
States who have been reeling since the beginning
of this week with the state-sanctioned murders of
Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile. A week that
began with the celebration of this country’s independence
and was marred by Delrawn Small being shot and
killed on a major Brooklyn street by an off-duty
NYPD officer. I have struggled this entire week with
this news, tried to keep balance. Then the shootings
of the officers in Dallas, Texas after a peaceful protest
by Black Lives Matter and other groups. And then the
mourning of those officers that some outlets have positioned
to be more valid than the execution of these Black
lives on VIDEO. This morning, it all came to a head.
And the burning of those tears have left certain things
much more clearer.

What we are constantly bearing witness to with these
murders by cop is this: it is the frenzied defense of a
system that fears its obsolescence rapidly approaching.
Look at each of these brothers. Alton Sterling was a
father of five, making a living as best he could. A beloved
figure in his Baton Rouge neighborhood, even by the
owner of the store that he was killed in front of. Philandro
Castile, who would’ve been 33 today. A chef at a school
for Montessori students who was a beloved staff member.
Both of these men were targeted, as so many often are,
for rising against the dictated norms of a pipeline system
through policing that has been co-opted by departments
across the nation as a way to generate revenue. Both of
these men selected through spurrious actions(Sterling
was accosted due to an apparent call made by someone
claiming he was up to no good, Castile pulled over due to
a “broken tail light”)and summarily executed. The officers
in both cases shell-shocked after pulling the trigger. And
now swept away on paid leave, protected by unions who
will tighten ranks like any other gang. Small’s death at the
hands of the off-duty cop come in the wake of a “road rage”
incident that goes off radar not only because of the deaths
of Sterling and Castile but the revelation that the off-duty
officer was involved in another racially-based incident before.
You cannot see these murders without seeing how they
are just another addition to the pyre of blood sacrifices to
an system that is far past rotten and reveals more and more
of it especially when the summer hits.

Summertime in America has always held that undercurrent
of anxiety for us. It goes back years, decades. Centuries
even, if you decide to really pore through the history they
choose to exclude from textbooks thanks to partisan politics
as racism. We have always borne the brunt of atrocities both
publicized and held quiet since the dawn of this nation. In this
digital age however, the violence is not only televised it’s on
loop and streaming to wherever you are. To truly understand
where we are, you have to accept a cold truth: there are
a number of Americans who are not people of color who have
a fixation on seeing these videos. It is no different than postcards
of lynchings and the white public holding barbecues around them
that sit in various storehouses and trunks from years past. It
satisfies a pornographic need within these people. This same
sentiment is being shared in memes on comment boards on
various forums. The white supremacists are not the only ones,
just the most unabashed. Don’t think that someone you know
or worked with or went to school with or someone you loved
isn’t party to this. Your proximity to them is closer than you
may realize. This is why many are choosing not to share these
videos or see them, and request that others do the same. Because
the network heads, website editors in chief - they are driven by
traffic numbers. If this gets them more, the better. And so the
prism of power gets strengthened. Think about it - this sentiment
lives on certain groups populated by police members with corrupt
hearts too. Why else do you see these murders keep taking
place? For them, it is what they subscribe to in order to reaffirm
an identity that gives them money and positions of power. Power
rewarded by more military weapons. Ferguson, 2014. Los Angeles,
1990. And others in between and prior.


Photo Credit: AP

The shootings of the officers in Dallas compound the situation
because their deaths are, in the same way, being used. Before
I go any further, let me reiterate a point: you can feel sorrow
for their deaths in the wake of a peaceful protest as much as
you feel for the murders of Castile and Sterling. In that, you
must realize one set does not erase the other, should not. But
that is what some are opting to do. This comes in the form of
the “all lives matter” crowd that is split into two camps serving
the same goal. The first camp is well-meaning, but will use the
term as a way to promote an ideal of peace that ultimately negates
it. They wish to, in order to have unity, strip people of color of
what makes them different and has put them in the position
that they are. It’s a neutrality that reinforces silence as violence.
The second camp? They know full well why they use the phrase.
It is the new “get over it”  or “stop playing the race card.” Think
about every situation you may have seen it used on social media.
If you know someone like this, hold your corner and realize they
may not come around to seeing it your way. 

Take into account the frenzy in the aftermath of the officers being
shot and killed. You had someone running the Dallas Police Department
twitter account post a photo of Mark Hughes, a brother who walked
with a rifle as per his consitutional right. Someone who gave up
the rifle to law enforcement to examine before being allowed to
continue to march. They chose him as the chaos went on, and if
not for the vigilance of the people online who debunked that myth,
he could’ve died. The suspect found responsible, Micah Johnson(I
will not play into the game of using his middle initial as a code)
who was blown up by a robot initially used to defuse bombs turns
out to be a former Army veteran who is now being depicted as a loner.
This is after being shown across screens and websites in a daishiki
with his fist raised, and hanging with Professor Griff of Public Enemy.
The mere mention of Black Lives Matter in relation to him basically
has re-ignited certain outlets like Fox News to position that movement
and other justice movements like it as enemies to the state. Think
about it - this happens and Rudy Giuliani, a crook is brought on to
speak for officers. Joe Walsh, a man who hours earlier threatened
the life of the President of the United States on Twitter, gets brought
on CNN.

I say all of this to say that if you are to not only survive and thrive
in these times right now, you need to realize that resistance of 
any sort on behalf of the people, consistent resistance lies in knowing
fully what is going on. It is a resistance that demands that you
continue to break the prism already severely fractured by current
events. This resistance means that you need to let your sorrow
channel into continuing to see clearly, acting clearly. And watch
the spin. Because imbalance is what has kept certain things in play
that harm us. Have those hard talks. Read those links people share.
Don’t shame those who look to re-center themselves through self-
care to protect against emotional trauma and need to log off. Encourage
others to get locally involved however they can, whenever they can
and if they struggle, support them. As always, the struggle continues
and I hope these words help at least one person out.

A revolution that is based on the people exercising their creativity in
the midst of devastation is one of the great historical contributions of

- Grace Lee Boggs



Stakes Is High, Twenty Years Later - Chris "Preach" Smith

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

These past few days, there have been reminders here and
there dropped in my lap with regards to life and all of the
changes associated with it. I get up some mornings and 
check email bulletins in my inbox and find another store or
nightspot or eatery I came up with is gone with the wind.
It’s change on the move here in New York City, a tad too
fast in comparison to what took place in the generation
before mine for my taste. I find it as the underbelly to a
couple of discussions I’ve had with folks, especially when it
comes to rap music and the overall hip-hop culture. There’s
one or two who position themselves as purists that I know,
almost to the point that they come off as stodgy and
inflexible. Change, when it comes, can be off-putting and
tough to deal with. It gets even more challenging to further
evolve and define your own stance in the face of it. And so,
it makes sense that today is the 20th anniversary of an
album where that internal struggle and expression came to
the forefront with one of hip-hop’s most influential and
sometimes misunderstood groups, De La Soul. That album?
Stakes Is High.

Stakes Is High dropped on July 2nd, 1996, and immediately
became part of my summer soundtrack as I whipped around
NYC on the subways. I had been intrigued after seeing the 
video for “Itzhowzee” on Rap City, and seeing how De La was…
well…different. De La Soul had always been viewed by many
I know as a rap group that was guaranteed to give you some
dope music but they didn’t get a whole lot of love from a few
folks out there. That indifference to them went back to their
D.A.I.S.Y. Age stylings and influences that put off some cats
(I’ll never forget one dude in The Wiz saying out loud once,
“Ayo you listen to them tie-dye Long Island dudes? Fugg outta
herrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre!!!” in between miming Sticky Fingaz from
Onyx)even though they were co-founders of one of the all-time
great music collectives, the Native Tongues. Being in college
then, you found that De La got a lot of play with white kids
who viewed them as an easier entry group to vibe with with
regards to rap. Of course, that came about because of the 
influence of production from Prince Paul that fed off a treasure
trove of jazz, psychedelic pop and rock earlier on in their
careers. De La Soul caught a lot of flack. “Coffeehouse rap.”
That was how it got described once. “Soft”. What was wild
was that their presence spurred on the rise of other groups
that delivered rap music in a unique way that was similar
(i.e. Digable Planets, P.M. Dawn, Boogiemonsters) but they
weren’t given the respect due. This time however, Prince Paul
wasn’t involved with any of the production thanks to a split
between he and the group. Heading up the process was the
members themselves, led by Dove. This would prove to be
extremely important to the album’s overall sound and message.

Right off the bat, Stakes Is High showcases that it’s a powerful
album thanks to “Intro” which begins with various people
reminiscing about the first time they heard Boogie Down
Productions’ “Criminal Minded”. From there you get Posdonous
spitting and you know off the bat that this is going to be a
different De La experience thanks to these bars that wound up
causing MAJOR beef between the group and another popular
group of that time(more on that in a bit):

A talker of the verb without weed influence
so stick to your Naughty By Nature’s and your Kane
‘cause graffiti that aint based upon the wax is insane

From there you get “Supa Emcees”, opening with Dove
essentially imitating a police siren and stating “that’s the 
sound of the poor” as the beat drops. The track itself is
a sharply pointed commentary on the growing shift in
rap music, with some quips that not only were biting
but prescient in their accuracy. De La’s disappointment
with the rise of extreme reliance on gangster ethos 
and overt commercialism being pushed by the industry
in rap music at the time shows throughout Stakes Is
High. Take this into account - this was around the same
time that Nas had dropped It Was Written and Jay-Z’s
classic Reasonable Doubt hitting the streets. You also
had The Score from The Fugees competing with Bone
Thugs-N-Harmony atop the charts. The scene was shifting,
and for De La Soul it must’ve felt like far too much.

For some, Stakes Is High sounded depressing at first in 
comparison with some of the other projects out there 
that had more upbeat elements. But true musical genius
is always off-putting at first. Dig deeper into the tracks
and you see how stronger both Pos and Dove got as MC’s.
“Down Syndrome” is a prime example of this, with both
rappers trading cluster bomb verses that made you mess
up the fast forward button on your Sony Discman back
then. They made it a point this album to basically tell the
world, “listen, we see these changes and we’re not happy
with the artistry being lessened in rap. You don’t like what
we’re saying? Come bring it.” In that respect, Stakes Is
High is both challenge and commentary. Listen to “Itzhowezee”
again, and you see how Dove’s solo venture makes it so:

And yo get your bowl ‘cause we cookin up stew
See them Cubans don’t care what y’all n****s do
Colombians aint never ran with your crew
why you actin’ all spicy and shiesty 
the only Italians you knew was icees

Challenge. Commentary. You hear it on every track, in the
carefully crafted interludes(like the one depicting a racist 
white guy deriding rap music at the end of “Long Island 
Degrees”) and the one right after “Stakes Is High” where
cats talk about O.J. Simpson. That one verse from Pos from
Intro you saw a while back? That wound up causing a serious
beef between them and Naughty By Nature, and even got
the late 2Pac riled up enough to record a diss against them
that was released only after his death. (Side note: as much
as many thought De La Soul were soft cats based on their
music, the amount of stories I’ve heard of them dusting 
heads off like furniture polish number in the dozens.) Most
of all, Stakes Is High spoke to me as an album that touched
on realities of life that I was soon going to face. “Pony Ride”
talked about interpersonal relationships and what caused 
folks to drift apart from each other. I mean, Pos’ entire verse
on that track resonates a lot more now as I’m a couple years
away from the 40th decade of life and seeing guys I know 
get divorced. This is before we even get to the title track.
“Stakes Is High” goes down as probably one of the most 
influential and era-transcending hip-hop tracks ever due to
a couple of factors. First? Production from J Dilla, who was
on the way to being the legend he is now regarded as. Second?
The GEMS dropped by Dove(“I think that smiling in public is
against the law/cause love don’t get you through life no more”)
and by Pos(“A meteor has more rights than my people”).
And again, this proves De La’s willingness to push the envelope
- this was also the album that gave further exposure to 
Mos Def.

That’s the true value, years later of Stakes Is High. It’s an
album that cut through the bullshit of the time to remind 
listeners of what should really matter. It didn’t do well in 
sales, and was panned by some. But it has not only held up
well in the past 20 years, some of it applies directly to what’s
going on today. You still have wack rap talent succeeding. 
You still are dealing with an industry that wants to put
artists in boxes. It’s interesting that De La Soul now is set
to release their latest album to widespread acclaim via
crowdfunding efforts this August, spurning the traditional labels.
Once again, providing both a commentary and a challenge not
just to the rap world but us as listeners. The lessons of 
Stakes Is High are life lessons about accepting the change
that you can accept, and giving the middle finger and
combatting the change you cannot accept however you
can. You can’t help but appreciate that.