De La Soul on stage at WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) Festival at Charlton Park on 24/07/2015 at Charlton Park, Malmesbury. Persons pictured: Trugoy, Dave, David Jude Jolicoeur. /Photoshot Photoshot/Everett Collection,

After Trugoy: Reflections on De La Soul

Celebrating, remembering, mourning the legacy and music of De La Soul after Trugoy the Dove's untimely death in 2023


AND SOMETIMES WE find ourselves weeping I found myself writing on the cover of a notebook as a title, pretty sure, for this musical inquiry, this inquiry on music that has to start with how I found myself (yes, I was lost) under the covers, shivering and crying on a day I’m supposed to be at work, watching some old videos of De La Soul, one of whose members, Trugoy the Dove (govt name Dave Jolicoeur) has died. Of heart disease, at fifty-four. Motherfucker. 

One of De La’s famous songs off their first record, “The Magic Number,” samples “Three Is a Magic Number” from Schoolhouse Rock! Now De La is two. Why do we keep dying so young?* I don’t know what my temperature was, but goddamn I was hot with heartbreak over this soft-voiced wordsmith, this wordsmith like Mike’s (apt. 273) nunchuks with the thin foam wrapping the handles so if you went slow they’d bounce off you, but if you went fast, you might lose a tooth or cut a little grin into the thin skin over your eyebrow. Sleepy might’ve been what we’d’ve called him if he was on the football team—remember those kids, how some of them were just lulling you so they could put a crackback on you that puts you to sleep? You know that Paul Mooney bit about black people and sleep, or, I guess, not sleep, don’t you? It’s always about practice. 

Read more like this in Orion’s ad-free, award-winning print magazine.
Subscribe today.

But sleepy might not quite be right: maybe I mean melancholic, or even mournful, as so often he seems to be in these videos I’m poring over, that are pouring over me, that are pouring me into myself I guess. When I was a middle and high school kid, goddamn I was looking for someone to be. Who isn’t? And at that age, who I wanted to be, or who seemed like someone to be, if they weren’t athletes, were musicians. Though I was into U2 (Joshua Tree era), and REM (Document era), and Basia, who I wanted to be were certain black musicians, people like Tracy Chapman, Chuck D from Public Enemy, any one of those brilliant weirdos from Fishbone, Branford Marsalis, and, okay, fine, yes, a little bit Al B. Sure! But above all, and this I’m understanding in retrospect, I think I wanted to be Trugoy from De La Soul. 

When I watch and rewatch the videos for “Me Myself and I,” “Eye Know,” “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays,’” “Buddy,” noticing Trugoy’s clothes, his sort of husky body, even somewhat his manner—his movements and demeanor—his hair in the early videos (oh, you better believe I tried to struggle my fluffro into his modified Gumby), the first feeling that flickers is this: oh, he’s my big brother. And the second feeling, the stranger and maybe more wrecking one, is that I’m watching myself, several younger versions. All of whom—the big brother, the younger me’s—the mourning is of. 

That appealed to me in eighth grade, and it appeals to me now: being backward in a world so much of whose forward trajectory is horrific. Let me try it backward.

Actually, the more I think of it, though melancholy and mournful fit, the more accurate word might be weary. There’s a persistent weariness in Trugoy, and maybe De La generally; see Stakes Is High (the song and the album). Weary and a little bit embarrassed, the more I think of it, at how easily we’re sucked into the superficial, mindless, cesspool parts of culture that take up so much space. From “Stakes Is High”: “I’m sick of . . . Versace glasses . . . name brand clothes . . . half-ass award shows,” etc. And a little bit later, “I think that smiling in public is against the law, ’cause love don’t get you through life no more.” 

Earnest weariness by itself probably could have caught me as a kid—I mean, see above; I recently realized I own three of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car CDs, and two of Crossroads. Or that earnest weariness wearing the mask of righteous anger, or rage: how many hours I spent not doing homework, not reading books, so I could rewind over and over again Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” I do not know. My favorite Simon and Garfunkel song might be “Old Friends,” swear to god—but the way De La’s music became a home for me, and I suspect a lot of us, is because of how goddamned funny it was, ridiculous sometimes. They could be wicked and subtle parodists, and they could be absurdists. I mean, for god’s sake, Trugoy is yogurt spelled backward, and his co-MC Posdnuos is soundsop (that is, the sound of sopping) backward. That appealed to me in eighth grade, and it appeals to me now: being backward in a world so much of whose forward trajectory is horrific. Let me try it backward. 

Not to mention the breadth (and depth) of their samples—my buddy Matty sent me an angelic playlist of many of the songs those samples came from, and lord it kept the heartbreak going—which tonight I’m thinking of as being in the big ballpark of comedy, given that sampling, like jokes, often work their very best when not everyone knows what’s going on. Until you’re like, Wait, you sampled Johnny fucking Cash?

I’m almost at my word count, which makes me think this was a ridiculous endeavor to tell you about this music, this guy, who, when he died, took a part of me with him. There’s no right way to finish, so I’ll just tell you this: after I really wept—I mean, I sobbed—the fever broke, and I slept very hard.

* Because they want us to.

In Where You Heard It, Ross Gay, the New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Delights and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, turns his ear to the songs that sustain us. A document of the places in which we receive music, this new column for Orion will be an atlas of mindful listening, capturing the built and natural environments in which background noise became melody.

Ross Gay is the author of four books of poetry: Against WhichBringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding, winner of the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. In addition to his poetry, Ross has released three collections of essays—the New York Times bestseller The Book of Delights, Inciting Joy, and his newest collection, The Book of (More) Delights. He is an Orion contributing editor.