On Sunday, in the midst of Super Bowl pomp and circumstance, we lost a hip-hop legend. David Jolicoeur, a.k.a. Trugoy the Dove, a.k.a. Plug Two, one-third of the highly influential group De La Soul, passed away at the age of 54. His death was first confirmed by Tony Ferguson, the group’s publicist, who did not share any information about the exact cause of death. The emcee had previously been open about his diagnosis of congestive heart failure though, particularly in the group’s music video for “Royalty Capes.”
As part of De La Soul, he and his fellow high school friends, Kevin “Posdnuos” Mercer and Vincent “Maseo” Mason Jr., brought a heavily stylized and jazz infused flavor to rap, Trugoy and Posdnuos were perfect complements to one another as rhymers, almost like two sides of the same brain, and thanks to the producer Prince Paul, they revolutionized how sampling could be utilized on a record.
Their first album 3 Feet High and Rising was their most commercially successful record, showing off their eclectic highbrow tastes, their softer, smoother sound, and their black hippie ethos. They could also flat out rap their asses off, they were extremely dexterous, playful, and witty in all of their rhymes, which made them appeal to rap fans of all stripes. They never pretended to be more than three dudes from Long Island who could be funny and cutting in the same verse. Trugoy was an expert at this, his posture and style putting you at ease as if he was someone you might hang with, while dropping a devastating check on the state of rap like this line from Ego Trippin' (Part Two), of Buhloone Mindstate:
"You gots to gimme gimme mine 'cause I'm heavy when I weigh it
Watch the way I say it
I change my pitch up, smack my bitch up, I never did it
The flavor's bein' bought, but brothers ain't gettin' it."
The three men grew up in the Amityville neighborhood of Long Island, N.Y., coming from a middle-class background. It partially explains their desire to be contrarians from the jump, promoting peace and wearing bright colors at a point where gangsta rap was thriving in popularity. But what made De La Soul cool, beyond just having good songs, was that they were unabashedly themselves. They were at the forefront of a burgeoning movement in their own time, signaling a new wave of east coast hip-hop as part of the Native Tongues, along with acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, the Jungle Brothers, and more.
And even with all the sampling issues and strife with their label that has kept their music locked out of the streaming revolution, no act has been more of a throughline for the current sound of mainstream rap than De La Soul. From Tyler, The Creator to Pharrell to Kanye West to even non-rap artists like Steve Lacy and Bartees Strange, they are all indebted to De La Soul’s sound and aesthetic. Consider De La's last release, 2016's And the Anonymous Nobody, which the group produced only after raising funds on Kickstarter, reaching $600,874 after originally seeking $110,000. The guest list on the album included Jill Scott, David Byrne, 2 Chainz and Little Dragon, among others.
News of Trugoy's death brought dedications from a number of luminaries in music over the day, including from legends like Chuck D, Pharrell Williams, Common, and B-Real of Cypress Hill. There were also tributes from artists like Open Mike Eagle, Kaytranada, A-Trak, and more.
That De La's albums were never released digitally, but the respect and love from their peers remained strong is a testament to their place in the history of hip hop. Just a few weeks ago they received their flowers as part of a tribute to hip hop at the Grammys, an appearance where Trugoy was mysteriously absent. The timing was auspicious; De La Soul's albums are finally arriving on streaming platforms March 3.