De La Soul's Vincent 'Pasemaster Mase' Mason

Today is the 27th birthday of De La Soul's Vincent "Pasemaster Mase"

Mason. Best known for such classic hip-hop jams as "Me Myself and I," "Say

No Go" and "The Bizness," De La Soul vastly expanded hip-hop's sound

palette in the late '80s and early '90s by drawing samples from a wide

array of genres and by rhyming about things other than inner-city life and

rocking the party. They are also notable for

introducing the hip-hop world to the between-song skit and for being the

first rap act to hit it big based on a George Clinton sample. Their softer

style of rhyming and use of lush yet danceable soundscapes were a huge

influence on a generation of "alternative" hip-hop acts, including Beck,

Arrested Development, P.M. Dawn, Camp Lo and all of the members of the

Hieroglyphics crew.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mason began rhyming with his crewmates David

"Trugoy" Jolicoeur and Kelvin "Posdnuos" Mercer when the three were in

high school in Long Island. Legendary DJ and producer Paul "Prince Paul"

Houston, who at that time was still with Stetsasonic, heard their first

demo, "Plug Tunin'," and took the group under his wing, helping to get it

signed to Tommy Boy and producing its debut, 1989's classic 3 Feet High

and Rising. Based around a mock game-show that popped up between

songs, 3 Feet High and Rising was as sample-heavy as that year's

other hip-hop classic, the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique; De La

Soul separated themselves from the pack by concentrating on off-kilter rhymes

and samples from such diverse sources as Hall & Oates, P-Funk, language

instruction records, "School House Rock" and the Turtles, a group that

sued De La Soul for unauthorized use of its song "You Showed Me." The

album yielded hits in the form of "Potholes In My Lawn," "Me Myself and I,"

"Say

No Go" and "Buddy," the song that introduced the members of the "Native

Tongues" posse: A Tribe Called Quest, Monie Love, Queen Latifah, Jungle

Brothers and Black Sheep. De La Soul and the rest of the Native Tongues

posse represented a new school in hip-hop flava, a sound and time they called

the D.A.I.S.Y. (Da Inner Sound, Y'all) Age.

The group's "soft" image led many in the hip-hop world to accuse them of

consciously trying to cross over by cashing in on a renewed interest in the

music and spirit of the '60s, a charge De La Soul tried to refute on their

follow-up, 1991's De La Soul Is Dead. The album -- which featured a

turned-over pot of daisies on its cover -- was a darker affair than their

debut, featuring songs that dealt with life after finding fame ["Ring Ring

Ring (Ha Ha Hey)"], the battle of the sexes ("Bitties in the BK Lounge"),

incest ("Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa") and drug abuse ("My Brother's A

Basehead"), as well as between-song skits that portrayed fans dissing De La

Soul and beating up anyone who liked them. Produced once again by

Houston, the album's sound was consistent with their debut, but its subject

matter alienated many fans and a few critics. In retrospect, altering

their sound

for their sophomore release was probably a wise career-decision considering

the short careers of rappers who stick to the same formula. Buhloone

Mind State, released in 1993, would be their last album produced by

Houston and found the group returning to the quirky samples and subject

matters of their debut. Declaring early and often that "It might blow up

but it won't go pop," the album was faithful to the group's softer yet

complicated roots and spawned a few minor hits with "Ego Trippin" and "Eye

Patch." Stakes Is High, De La Soul's 1996 release, broke away

from their old sound by concentrating largely on songs that used

live instrumentation. The group is currently working on a follow-up.

Also celebrating a birthday today: Lee Oskar (War), 50.