During the second night of SXSW Music Week in Austin, TX, the most sought after show was at the StubHub Sound Stage at Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden, where the legendary and embattled De La Soul performed in front of an at-capacity, yet intimate crowd.
In recent weeks, the “Me, Myself, and I” band has been battling their former label Tommy Boy Records over royalties distribution from the music they released under the imprint. This covers releases from the apex of De La Soul’s 30 year career, including their debut Three Feet and Rising (1989) which is considered a historically classic hip hop album.
Aside from the group’s cultural contributions, their work has kept the Tommy Boy afloat through 30 years of a changing industry and a divestment from Warner Brothers. It’s time to pay the piper.
The battle has resulted in the band issuing a call to arms from their supporters around the world to #BoycottTommyBoy, gaining traction with millions of social media mentions and the support of heavy-hitters like Nas and Questlove.
Maseo—the group’s DJ—wasted no time in addressing the issue to the crowd when he hit the stage, saying, “If you know what’s been going on for the past couple of weeks and you’ve actually been paying attention, thank you for your motherfucking support!”
He was answered by a roaring crowd, pledging their allegiance to the hip hop luminaries, to which the other two members, Pos and Trugoy took the stage and got right into their hour long set, through selections from 2016’s and the Anonymous Nobody, and classics like “Woo” and “Me, Myself, and I.”
Their energy was infectious, using mastery of their emcee abilities with call and response routines and crowd control, the set never got tiring and kept the audience enthused the whole time.
In an era where hip hop culture is at such a crossroads for its identity, De La Soul demonstrated that no matter how much the genre of rap has changed, and no matter how elaborate stage design has gotten—at the end of the day what matters most is knowing how to play to an audience.
The crowd at Banger’s was mixed, with White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic people ranging from their 20s to their 50s, all dancing and shouting—a beautiful display of the raw energy of hip hop culture.
In the middle of the set, Trugoy reminded the crowd that what they do is special, referring to The Migos’ declaration that they’re the biggest rap group in history.
“We’ve been doing this as a group, never splitting off, for 30 years! When they hit 31 years, then we can talk,” he proclaimed.
He’s right, because no matter how much screaming into a microphone over a vocal track gets high schoolers and college kids hyped in 2019, they’re going to get harder to entertain as they get older, and what keeps fans engaged and willing to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars to see you decades later, is true showmanship and authenticity.
They say hip hop is a young man’s game, but that’s only half-true. Dyed dreads and Fashion Nova are going to get old very soon, but being good at performing on stage is what keeps legends forever young.
As De La Soul gets ready to embark on their Rap Gods World Tour with Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy, their performance at SXSW was an opportunity to get close to their most loyal fanbase and send a message that not only do they deserve their money, but their respectful place in the annals of music history. They made their point abundantly clear, but not in the angry “old head” fashion. They did it with love in a way that made me feel like in that hour long set I had made three new friends.