De La Soul was one of six headlining acts around Portland to end the four-day long Soul’d Out Music Festival Sunday, April 22. After opening artists Lilla and Silent Heroes performed, De La’s show at the Roseland was energetic and fun, and the music sounded on point, but its most notable feature was De La’s interaction with the crowd and the press.
De La’s original three members—Pos, Dave and Maseo—all showed an impressive and overwhelming amount of control over the emotion and physicality of the crowd around them. When Pos told crowd members to put their arms up and move, it was like the audience was possessed: plaid button-up sleeves, crooked glasses and glazed eyes as far as the eye could see.
Dave told the photographers in the press pit to put away their cameras. “We’ve been doing this for almost 30 years now, damn!” Dave shouted. “And as far as I’m concerned, we’ve took enough fuckin’ pictures!” Dave laughed, the crowd cheered, photographers looked back laughing anxiously—like when someone cracks an uncomfortably honest joke.
“When we do a show, it’s for everyone in the house, alright?” Dave explained, “I know you gentlemen and young ladies are working but could you join us and put your cameras down for like, the first two songs?”
The crowd cheered in agreement as every member of the press put their equipment down. It’s reasonable enough, except for the fact that photographers are technically only allowed to photograph the first three songs. The music started again and the crowd and press pit went animal.
It’s not enough to write that the NYC trio has consistently produced nine complex and beautiful albums since 1989. I was surprised De La decided to perform its original break-out single “Me Myself and I” because the band has made so much music since then. What was more notable, however, was De La’s dedication to the late James Dewitt Yancey, better known as J Dilla. It was hard to gauge whether or not the audience was on the same page, because like the emotional pull of any late remembrance, De La Soul’s Maseo and Dave chanting J Dilla’s name in verse felt completely personal.
As far as internet radio goes, J Dilla and other acts such as A Tribe Called Quest, Gorillaz and MF Doom played a large part in introducing me to De La Soul’s music. Although I can’t pretend to be a De La expert, the irony wasn’t lost on me that De La was performing songs like, “Oooh!” and “Stakes Is High,” which discuss race, poverty, gentrification, homelessness, drug addiction and suicide, while the majority of the audience is white, probably not from Portland, and the concert itself is only two blocks from where the city evicted a homeless camp for drug use, overpopulation and violence.
Toward the end of the performance, it seemed the late show got the best of the crowd. It’s possible De La noticed too because its energy and engagement grew less patient. But it’s not them, De La Soul. It’s Portland, it’s midnight on a Sunday, and I might have been one of the youngest people there.