It might not be completely accurate to call the early 1990s hip-hop concept of “Native Tongues” a movement, a style, or even a collective. It was never meant to be a serious one; it was merely a loose organization of friends based around the worlds of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest that got confabulated into being something more than it was. Yet even though none of the parties involved believed it to be more than an informal thing, a new Bob Stanley-organized compilation The Daisy Age shows that they were definitely creating a new sound.
To be sure, in 1990 the music coming from the camps of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest proved most exciting. While rap acts like N.W.A., Ice-T, and Public Enemy were courting controversy with their in-your-face violence, promotion of gang life, and telling the hard truths of racism, the Native Tongue were looking to expand the mind of the listener, through creative sampling, a jazzier tone, and a more upbeat and positive approach. The one-two punch of debut albums 3 Feet High And Rising and People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm was indeed dizzying, and they’re considered musical masterpieces for a reason. (Interestingly, the offerings here from both bands come from both groups’ sophomore albums; though they created a style, they quickly backed away from it–which would help to mark the premature end of the “movement.”
It’s natural that when one obtains success that they share it with their friends, and that’s where Native Tongues came in. They had some superb friends, too; Queen Latifah (represented here with her hilarious but serious duet with De La Soul, “Mama Gave Birth To The Soul Children”), Monie Love (“It’s A Shame (My Sister)”), Black Sheep (“The Choice Is Yours”), Del Tha Funkee Homosapien‘s “Mistadobalina,” and Brand Nubian (“All For One”). All of these folks carried on the sound and style, and as a result obtained a certain level of chart success that was quite impressive. And when they all come together on a track, like they did on The Jungle Brothers’ “Doin’ My Own Dang?” Pure perfection.
Even the outliers and somewhat more tenuous offerings on The Daisy Age prove quite enjoyable. It’s weird to hear Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P.” here—easily the most well known song of the lot, as it’s easily one of the most ubiquitous hip-hop songs of the decade—but listening to the Jackson 5-based hit alongside the other acts here, it doesn’t seem so strange after all. KMD’s “Peachfuzz” was a fun, silly number about youth—and in the liner notes, yours truly was surprised that one of the masterminds of this enjoyable song would become MF Doom. Canadian duo’s Dream Warriors’ “My Definition Of A Boombastic Jazz Style” was briefly a thing, and even though this writer hadn’t thought of the Quincy Jones-sampling number in twenty years, it still sounds quite fresh. “Age Ain’t Nothing But A #,” by the promising teenage rapper Chi-Ali, was a quite intelligent and astute song about abstaining from young teenage sex, and felt like the beginning of something special. (Sadly, it was not; eight years later he would be involved in a homicide, ultimately serving twelve years in prison.)
The progenitors of the fine music from this era would quickly move on to new things—some continued to pursue more traditional rap and hip-hop, some transitioned into acting, while others simply faded into obscurity. Whatever their fate, The Daisy Ages hows that for a very brief moment, a new musical breeze delivered some of the finest and most interesting new sounds and styles that still sound fresh three decades later.