Song 63: De La Soul (feat. Mos Def), “Big Brother Beat” (1996)

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Man, this is one underrated record. Stakes Is High may be a ways off from Three Feet High and Rising, but what isn’t? And one of De La Soul’s great charms has always been their need for reinvention, which we first saw with De La Soul Is Dead, the album that mocked the trio’s D.A.I.S.Y. Age (“da inner sound, y’all”) debut.

This song is the best track on Stakes Is High, and I think it’s because of its confidence. A song called “Big Brother Beat” better have a good beat, and this one does. It’s not flashy, but it’s sure-footed and, true to the song’s title, seems to be all-knowing, transmitting the De La signal to the five boroughs and beyond.

This song also features the artist formerly known as the mighty Mos Def (he now goes by Yasiin Bey), only a few years away from Black On Both Sides but still, at that time, mainly a Brooklyn concern. So whether this was the intention or not, “Big Brother Beat” is something of a passing of the torch. It’s easy to see what De La Soul saw in Mos Def, as he shares the Native Tongues ethos and fits the group’s laid-back, affable style.

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