With a career spanning over 25 years, De La Soul has cemented itself as one of hip-hop’s most innovative and eclectic groups, pushing the boundaries of sound and lyric. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of their fourth album, 1996’s Stakes is High (most notably the first album without the production of Prince Paul) and the 25th anniversary of their critically acclaimed sophomore set, 1991’s De La Soul is Dead, the New York-bred group is releasing their first album in almost eleven years on Friday (Aug. 26), and The Anonymous Nobody, via A.O.I. Records and Kobalt Label Services.
Since their last full-length album, 2004’s The Grind Date, De La Soul — the collective comprised of Posdnuos (born Kelvin Mercer), Maseo (Vincent Lamont Mason, Jr.) and Trugoy the Dove (David “Dave” Jude Jolicoeur, who now goes by just Dave) — has steadily released music, including an EP that came out earlier this year called For Your Pain and Suffering.
“We had always been recording individually at home trying stuff and playing stuff for each other,” Dave tells Billboard, noting that the group saw a greater cohesion in the songs they were creating a few years ago. “Good things just started to happen creatively. It was like we were in the studio messing around with music but a theme was sticking or a common chord was pulling things together. It was beginning to weave itself in the sessions.”
The group, whose 1989 debut 3 Feet High and Rising is one of the most sample-dense albums in hip-hop history, decided to use live musicians this time around, which made the creative process smoother. “[It was fulfilling] knowing that we didn’t have to pay to clear any samples,” adds Maseo. “The sampling technique was relatively the same but instead of it being off of old compositions of people’s music, it was actually off of original compositions of musicians that we hired to come play for this project. I think the approach on creatively versus the business was liberating.”
As the album came together, the group began to look for ways to fund the project. After some consideration, they knew partnering with a major label wasn’t the way to go for this unique project. “We definitely did not want to go to a label. The idea is not something a traditional label would understand,” Dave says. “Somebody came up with a bright idea. What about crowdfunding? I heard Public Enemy and Spike Lee had done it.” Although crowdfunding seemed like a viable choice, the group was apprehensive at first. “We saw how it works but I think the big hang up and apprehension was in we didn’t want people to think we were being greedy or broke,” Dave notes. Ultimately, De La launched a Kickstarter page in March 2015 and within hours, they’d had raised over $100,000 (as of August 2015, the group has raised over $600,000 from 11,000 backers).
The album contains features from artists spanning several genres including: Jill Scott, Snoop Dogg, Pete Rock, Estelle, 2 Chainz and former Talking Heads singer David Byrne. All the features were secured through the team’s own resources and relationships. However, Dave recalls one song, “Lord Intended,” almost not making the final cut because they couldn’t find a suitable vocalist. “We just could not find the individual who would be the feature on this record. It was one of those songs where we have to do this,” he says. The group then found Justin Hawkins. “Two and a half years of trying to figure out what’s going to make that record work, we finally landed on the lead singer of The Darkness,” he says of the track with the over-the-top rock wailer, reminiscent of veteran producer Rick Rubin’s hip-hop-meets-rock collaborations like Run-DMC and Aerosmith’s legendary collabo on “Walk This Way.”
Inspiration for the album sometimes came in unexpected ways. For “Greyhound,” a collaboration with Usher, Posdnuos recalled the trip that sparked the track. “I was riding past the greyhound station in L.A. and one of the guys in the car said in a tour guide voice, ‘And this is the greyhound station where people come in everyday looking for their piece of Hollywood,'” he says. “I immediately said that could be a great song for this project about a big city eating up and spitting out someone from a small town and their entry and departure point for the story would be from the greyhound station. A few weeks later, a song from out of the jam sessions was put together and the mood of the track worked perfectly with the greyhound concept.”
In an industry where maintaining musical and financial vitality can be fleeting, the trio has managed to remain relevant and actively release music over multiple decades. “We have always been into every mindset of hip-hop culture, but we always listen first to who we are and how we were raised when it came time for us to put out music,” notes Pos. For the rest of the year, the group hopes to put together a gripping live show and keep filming the journey of creating their album for a potential documentary.
As for a De La Soul biopic, Dave laughs and says, “I think we are admittedly humble enough to say our lives aren’t that amazing to have on a big picture.” Maseo adds, “There ain’t enough controversy circulating around our lifestyle.” In keeping with their intricate three-way rhymes, Pos threw in, “I’m not sure if the ‘sex, drugs and violence’ part of our story is interesting enough, but the sacrifices that we made by losing time with family while trying to figure out the riddle to stay relevant throughout our career, as well as showing the fight to not allow ourselves to be erased from history due to none of our albums that we put out on Tommy Boy being for sale in this digital age, would be great to see.”