De La Soul's enigmatic lyrics have never been easy to decipher. At least for "Patti Dooke" they give us a clue by including a chunky portion from The Five Heartbeats (1991), a well-made film about the trials old R&B groups went through trying to make it big in segregated America. Shadowing Buhloone Mindstate's major theme of "we might blow up but we won't go pop," the agitated film clips that appear at both the start, the middle, and the conclusion of the song originate from a scene in which the all-black Heartbeats discover their album's cover art has been replaced by a lilly white family enjoying a day at the beach.
"Why do we have to cross over?" asks an incredulous Eddie King, Jr. (Michael Wright), lead singer of the group. "Why are niggas always crossing over something, huh? What's the matter? They can accept our music as long as they can't see our faces?" The record executive (Harris Peet) tries to calm things down by stating, "We just felt that the picture wasn't as important as it was that we succeed in crossing over," to which Heartbeat J.T. (played by the actor with one name, Leon) replies, “Crossover ain't nothin' but a double-cross! Once we lose our audience, we never gonna get them back! Next thing you know they'll try to change our sound.”
Another meaningful layer is added to the song with the inclusion of legends Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis, who really lived through those troubled musical times of yesteryear. The song's ending still packs a wallop today. "Tell me something, huh," demands J.T. "How come they never crossed over to us, huh? I never seen five niggas on Elvis Presley's album cover."