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Elevator 14: Dave

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Dave from De La Soul is in my opinion is one of the greatest voices in the history of rap music. De La Soul formed in Long Island, New York in 1987. Their very first demo song ‘Plug Tunin’ is one of the highlights of 1980’s rap music. For a while De La Soul were unignorable.

Dave is a team player, so much so that you rarely hear about him without hearing about Pos, the other rapper in De La Soul. These emcees share verses and frequently back up each other’s lyrics and ideas. Unlike Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav or Andre and Big Boi of Outkast, the De La Soul vocalists are on the same wavelength. So what does Dave have that’s distinctive?

Dave’s vocal delivery exudes the melancholy and soulfulness of the rhythm and blues tradition – he doesn’t flaunt or draw attention to it. It’s just there.

His voice has both authority and a colloquial warmth, but listen closely and you’ll hear a deep anger brewing. The anger does at times spill out like in the classic ‘Stakes is High’. Dave’s verse starts in the laundrette:

Dave less frequently opts for the uppercut punchline than Pos and therein lies his power: restraint, understatement, wicked satire. His verses are like an unbroken stare that makes you second-guess yourself.

My journey with hip-hop music began properly listening to Doug E Fresh and Whodini but it was De La Soul’s startlingly creative album 3 Feet High and Rising and its follow-up De La Soul is Dead that spoke to me in a way that was life changing.

The tragic narrative of Millie Pulled A Pistol on Santa blew my mind, as did the up-tempo defiance of Say No Go. De La Soul managed to conjure up the image of Much Ado about Nothing set in a Burger King and exhibited satirical wit and sincerity in equal measures. These albums made me believe that rappers could be limitlessly creative, playful and dead serious. Dave is all three.

De la Soul will release a new album this year. Here’s their new single ‘Get Away’: Dave’s verse starts 1 min. 40 sec. in with ‘And some’ll believe that they’re leaders…’

Trying People

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Elevator 4: Ty

Yes! Our 1st UK elevator!

Some lyricists elevate the art of rap through tongue-twisting flights of fancy coaxing us to expand our imaginations, others elevate through plainspoken observations, pithy diatribes and candid anecdotes. Ty aka Ben Chijioke has spent the last decade diligently making clear-minded, soulful, snap-your-neck hip-hop music.

He’s willing to point out not only the injustices and turmoil of 21st century life in general, but his own heartaches, gripes and struggles knowing full well that vulnerability, sincerity and social concern are perceived by some hip-hoppers as weak and uncool.

I think Ty can’t help but be honest and he couldn’t care less about machismo. While other rappers chameleon their way through their career Ty just spits it how he sees it. Accordingly in conversation he’s dialectic. He’s friendly, but he’s not automatically agreeable. You know he’s a good listener because at times he will disagree with you very specifically. How refreshing.

It’s this at times awkward honesty mixed with his playful gruffness, which makes Ty such a distinctive voice in UK and global hip-hop. Add his warmth and wit and you have some classic rap songs.

‘Closer’, released in 2006, is the Ty album that I’ve spent proper time with. It’s such a solid, well-produced and heartfelt record. For me this is the perfect soundtrack to everyday life: sitting on the train, cleaning out the garage or folding laundry.

But there’s one more thing that makes this Londoner a true elevator: he speaks hope, much needed, painfully rare hope. And honestly, it’s more fun to party in an atmosphere of hope than of zombie-like hedonism.

I implore you to listen to these songs on proper speakers or quality headphones – they are meant to be heard AND felt.
His latest release ‘Like You Never’ is the first single from the upcoming ‘A Kick Snare & An Idea’ EP on the Tru Thoughts label. If you want to know what Ty’s about, these lyrics are a good place to start.

More hope, more determination and one of the slinkiest beats ever recorded:

‘We Don’t Care’ from his album ‘Upwards’ (2005)

‘Don’t Cry’ from ‘Special Kind of Fool’ (2010) – just close your eyes and listen to this one – the video is a bit of a distraction

His Tru Thoughts label page