La Di Da Di is about Slick Rick being romantically pursued by a woman and also the woman’s ultra-aggressive mother. It’s the archetypal storytelling rap song. It also made clear what would be rap’s eventual relationship with casual misogyny. It also hinted at the lavish pimp-lifestyle version that would fully form itself in the next decade.
Slick Rick was rap’s first great storyteller, and also its most influential. A large part of that was his actual rapping, which was fluid and effortless, and I’ll point you to the opening of “La Di Da Di” as proof.
He owls his way through the first few lines before Doug E. Fresh begins beatboxing, saying he and Doug are going to show you something you’ve never seen before because he knows “You’re all sick of all these crap rappers / Biting their rhymes because, um, they’re backstabbers / But, uh, when it comes to me and my friend Doug Fresh here / There is no competition ’cause we are the best, yeah,” and he gets all that way and you don’t even realize that he’s already started rapping.
Nobody who had come before him had flexed that sort of preternatural smoothness, that silkiness, that languidness.
His words just strolled out of his mouth in silk pajamas. It was mesmerizing. Snoop Dogg remains the only other rapper to pull off a similar feat.
Snoop Dogg covered “La Di Da Di” on his album Doggystyle in 1993. He called it “Lodi Dodi.” It was the first time a rapper had covered another rapper’s song on an album, and so “La Di Da Di” was important indirectly as well as directly.
The Influence of “La Di Da Di” on Rap
“La Di Da Di” was the first rap song to use up all of its time telling a cohesive story, which makes it an evolutionary step. To stay within just the bounds of this book, a fast comparison to make to “La Di Da Di” is the part in “Rapper’s Delight” where Wonder Mike raps about going to a dinner at a friend’s house. “La Di Da Di” was like that, except laser-focused. There’s a very distinct beginning, middle, and end, and more important than that, there’s a very clear point to his telling you a story, which hadn’t happened before he did it. Basically every storytelling rap song that’s come after 1985 has used “La Di Da Di” as its template.
“La Di Da Di” was the second rap song ever where the rapper referred to a woman as a “bitch,” and it was the first rap song ever to discuss the general appearance of an elderly woman’s vagina. (“And with your wrinkled pussy, I can’t be your lover.”) Rick’s low-volume British coo managed to make casual misogyny seem cool. That’s not a good thing, but it was a thing that had a tremendous effect on rap.
Another thing “La Di Da Di” did was pioneer high-toned brand narcissism. Things Slick Rick mentions: Polo cologne, Oil of Olay, his Kangol hat, Gucci underwear, Bally shoes, Johnson’s Baby Powder, a bubble bath, and filing his nails.
“La Di Da Di” was the B side of a record. The A side was “The Show,” also an iconic track, and so a fun thing to consider is that “The Show”/“La Di Da Di” is maybe the best combo record in all of rap.
There aren’t any instruments on “La Di Da Di,” which was also peculiar and incredible. It’s all voice. Slick Rick raps the song, and Fresh makes the beats and buttresses Rick’s words with punch-ins.
Doug has long argued that he invented beatboxing even though the Fat Boys had a song called “Human Beat Box” in 1984 and also even though Michael Winslow was on Police Academy making robot noises in 1984, too. Doug said that the Fat Boys stole the idea from him. He’s never said anything about Winslow though. Police Academy is beyond reproach.
From a pure rapping standpoint, “La Di Da Di” is the Song of 1985. But rap has never really been pure. Since its dawn on earth, the genre has sampled and repurposed other bits of culture. There’s nothing more hip- hop than music venturing outside of its comfort zone.
Enter “King of Rock.” Run-DMC could rap their asses off, albeit not with the same dexterity or nuance as Slick Rick. Don’t think of “King of Rock” as a guitar-driven crossover, or pandering to white listeners, or a welcome mat for Aerosmith.
This was the invention of the hard-as-fuck mentality that’s preoccupied the genre ever since. Thirty years later, “King of Rock” still knocks. It’s more streamlined than what came before but also liberating.
The half-shouted bars and Rik Rubin’s stripped-down production are all about tension and suspense. If “King of Rock” sometimes sounds like two competing hype men, it’s because “King of Rock” is the feeling of next. Instead of living in the moment, Run-DMC were spokesmen for the future.
They weren’t amped off of what was happening in that moment but for what was ahead. This wasn’t good- times music or skills on display; it was “You have no fucking idea what’s about to go down.” In a lot of ways, we still don’t.