Photo credits: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
The song “Stakes Is High” is a single by the hip-hop group De La Soul. According to Album of the Year, it was released on June 18, 1996, via Tommy Boy Records.
This single was the lead for De La Soul’s fourth studio album with the same name. Mid-1996 was a turning point for the group and for their music genre as a whole. For the group, this was the first time that their former production cohort Prince Paul had nothing to do with a De La Soul project.
The production for “Stakes Is High” was primarily handled by J-Dilla (also known as Jay Dee), a Detroit-bred beatsmith whose name was new to the production credits of hip-hop projects released through the mainstream.
J-Dilla would go on to amass an impressive production catalog. Long after his 2006 death, Jay’s musical legacy earned him high praise from hip-hop purists who crowned him as one of the greatest rap producers of all time.
That greatness is on display inside the “Stakes Is High” backdrop. The song samples “Mind Power” by the great James Brown and “Swahililand” by jazz music legend Ahmad Jamal. However, the lyrics delivered by De La Soul’s members over J-Dilla’s ruggedly sophisticated explain their chosen genre’s rough turning point.
Mid-1996 was during the “East Coast vs. West Coast” rivalry that transpired in hip-hop history. De La Soul attacked the more gang, drug, street, and death-oriented sub-genre that was taking shape in their musical lane. Though “Stakes Is High” did not debut on the U.S. pop charts, it shook up the industry it was highly critical of.
The group’s ensuing album provided more of the same much-needed criticism for a genre that is in disarray to this day.