Train of Thought: De La Soul’s “Stakes Is High” 15 Years Later [July/August Outtakes]
De La Soul “Stakes Is High,” Stakes Is High (1996)
[Editor’s Note: Posdnuos and Dave of De La Soul spoke on the 15-year anniversary of their classic song “Stakes Is High” in XXL’s July/August issue. Here are some outtakes that didn’t make the magazine.]
“The instamatic focal point bringing damage to your boroughs/Be some brothers from the east with some beats that be thorough/Got the solar gravitation so I’m bound to pull it/I gets down like brothers are found ducking from bullets/Gun control means using both hands in my land/Where it’s all about the cautious livin’/Migrating to a higher form of consequence, compliments/Of strugglin’, that shouldn’t be notable/Man every word I say should be a hip hop quotable“—Posdnuos
“I’m sick of bitches shakin’ asses/I’m sick of talkin’ about blunts/Sick of Versace glasses/Sick of slang/Sick of half-ass awards shows/Sick of name brand clothes/Sick of R&B bitches over bullshit tracks/
Cocaine and crack/Which brings sickness to blacks/Sick of swoll’ head rappers/With their sicker-than raps/Clappers and gats/Makin’ the whole sick world collapse/The facts are gettin’ sick/Even sicker perhaps/Stickabush to make a bundle to escape this synapse“—Dave
*AS TOLD TO CARL CHERY*
XXL: What were some of the things going on at the time that made you wanna write “Stakes Is High?
Posdnuos: For me personally that’s just kinda where I was where I would kind of reflect on what was going on in the world or life. ‘Cause when you really listen to my verses, that’s what I’m doin’. And then Dave really touched more with his iconic verse on what he’s sick of in the industry. It was like we were lookin’ at our own life as De La Soul. What do we mean to the world? Does what we’ve accomplished even matter anymore? There was a lot of great other artists comin’ up. Big was doin’ it, Wu-Tang was doin’ it. We saw that on Buhloone Mindstate. So when we started recording [Stakes Is High], it was like, “Yo, what’s our place in this? We still tryin’ to make music? You know, the stakes is high for us.”
The song came out 10 years before Nas’s Hip-Hop Is Dead and it seems that you were saying that hip-hop was headed towards a state of emergency.
Dave: [It] definitely was a state of emergency for us. That’s what it felt like. It just felt like something was going awry. It didn’t seem like it was about skills or sayin’ somethin’ or in even regards to production it just didn’t seem right. It wasn’t about hip-hop anymore. It seemed like more in the direction of, “let’s get this money, let’s exhaust this train, exhaust this vehicle as much as we can”. I’m all about learning from this thing, but at the same time it was almost like, “Are we actually exchanging cash for something that we love?”
There wasn’t nearly as much ass shaking in 1996 as in the 2000s. What was your reaction when the video girl phenomenon got out of control?
Dave: I definitely was like, “Wow, this is exactly what I was thinking about.” I mean, who doesn’t like a fat ass? But I think when we begin to lose control, when we begin to lose some respectable moral fiber — And I hate to sound like I’m some sort of priest or anything — it’s a little bit like, “Yo, this isn’t what hip-hop is about.” It’s one of those things when you open the curtains and you want to take a snapshot of what’s going on in hip-hop and you know staring at those open curtains is a brand new audience or a generation that really don’t know. What are they gonna see? What are they gonna [think]: this is the definition of what hip-hop is?
How do you think gun control in America has changed in the last 15 years?
Pos: I mean, honestly I don’t think it’s changed that much. You can have more policy on it where you can see even people, unfortunately, like a Ja Rule and all these other people gettin’ sentenced and punished for havin’ a gun and all that, but the actual level of someone stoppin’ you from gettin’ it in the first place, that ain’t there. It’s all big business. It’s the business running guns, bringing guns into the country, it’s the business of a prison being able to have prisoners to be able to make money. They’re not doing the true education, or re-educating children to feel like, “I can have a self-esteem high enough to not wanna hurt anyone, to not even involve myself in that with someone.” They need to protect themselves in the first place and the people that try to protect themselves are the ones that get busted and go to jail in a system that is really not trying to change.
On the song you say the Native Tongues have been reinstated. What’s the status of the crew now?
Pos: Man, we still got our nonsense in terms of doin’ business, but honestly what I had meant by it was the feel. For the longest I didn’t feel like Native Tongues were like a word that I wanted to associate myself with. I just felt like we as friends fell apart. But if it’s gonna be business it’s fine as business too. At that point, basically, what I’m tryin’ to say within history when you look back at Buhlloone Mindstate when I said in “I Am I Be” I was disassociatin’ myself with certain things within that particular record and things that I went through with certain members of the Native Tongues clique. It was just my way of just sayin’, “You know what the feeling of native tongues for me is reinstated,” ’cause I know I had even spoke to Tip during the Buhloone Mindstate phase goin’ into Stakes Is High and there were things that even he felt we should do, but I just felt like I wasn’t really there. At that time when I was writin’ that, I felt like the things that we as Native Tongues group talked about were very prevalent and that energy needed to be reinstated. That’s why you see Tip in the [“Stakes Is High”] video. But even to this day, the majority of us are really still cool. There’s no problem with none of us as friends. Dres is always on the road with us. I talk to Tip all the time. Me and Sham [of the Jungle Brothers] is out here in Atlanta. We all really deal with each other. We all talk to each other, but I guess as individual groups we just kinda have this individual path that we reached.
Would you say stakes are still high in 2011?
Dave: Oh yea, they definitely are. I think every now and then there should be checks and balances and I think in 2011 we’ve rounded a period where stakes have been high for a couple of years. I enjoy all of it, but just as much as there is a Rick Ross there needs to be and Odd Future. Just as much as there was a Jay-Z there needed to be a Common. Just as much as there was a Big Daddy Kane and LL Cool J there needed to be a De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. And I think throughout the years the stakes will always get high, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we need one of the elements over the other. There just has to be a balance.