If there’s one thing that De La Soul knows well, it’s consistency. Ever since their 1989 Tommy Boy debut 3 Feet High and Rising, the Long Island trio of Kelvin “Posdnuos” Mercer, Dave “Trugoy” Jolicoeur, and DJ Vincent “Maseo” Mason – or Plugs One, Two and Three – have been releasing gem after gem, changing pace each go ’round without missing a step creatively. Still, after their sixth album AOI: Bionix sold a mere 130,000 copies, the economic realities of the industry caused De La to get dropped from their label. Now, through the perseverance that has defined their career, the Spitkicker founders have a new album that’s already being dubbed a classic, their own label, and a joint venture deal with Beyonce’s pops to back it up. But, as they tell HipHopSite.com, their grind never ends.
HipHopSite: First off, tell me about the new album, The Grind Date.
Dave: This album actually wasn’t the album we were supposed to be working on; we were supposed to be working on a DJ joint to close out the AOI series. But when we started getting the beats, and started feeling them, a lot of stuff that seemed that it was supposed to fall under the instrumental, with scratches over it, and stuff like that (worked better with written verses). Myself and Pos just started writing, and started creating great songs, and we didn’t want to trash stuff and start from scratch. We sat down as a unit and were like, “Everything that we’ve been doing has been coming out real good. Mase especially, how do you feel? Do you feel like we should chuck this stuff and start from scratch? What are you thinking?” Maseo was actually part of the idea of putting AOI Part 3 on hold and just doing another De La record. Putting together a record where all of us were involved rhyming, cutting, producing, and so on. We started putting out songs, with just the regular routine, how we do it. As time went on, we had 12 great songs.
Plus, a part of it was getting into this venture with Sanctuary Records. We felt like we couldn’t really give them a novelty record for our first product; we figured, let’s put together this De La record since it’s coming together as cool as it is, and keep it moving.
HipHopSite: How do you manage to continue to make music that keeps your signature old school hip-hop vibe while still keeping up with the rest of what’s going on?
Posdnuos: It’s a lot of things. I think one of them is that we maintain a true love for what we do, and one of the things we loved in what we were doing was trying to do something different and fresh. Unlike a lot of many other groups, we never got caught up while we succeeded so well in any vibe. We didn’t get stuck there like, “Yeah, look what we did. Weren’t those the days?” We left that alone, and started on the next album. We’re always down for progression and change, and even if that change may not be in your favor, we’re down to play on the team and try to make great music to be a part of what’s going on. We’re going to do it our own way, but we always want to be a part of what’s going on. I think we always remain to be students of the culture, because we learned not only how we did from Run-DMC and Rakim, while still doing what we want to do; we learn from Jadakiss, and Lloyd Banks, and still do what we want to do.
HipHopSite: Back to the album for a minute. You guys’ guest list is crazy: you’ve got Ghostface, Common, Doom, Carl Thomas, and even Flava Flav. How’d you go about getting these appearances, specifically Doom?
Dave: We’ve known Doom ever since back in the day. Doom was on tour with us when he was coupled up with KMD. We’ve known Doom from Long Island, 3rd Bass, all that. Just now, following his career within the last two years, seeing how much noise he was making on the underground tip, and just identifying with his talent. Doom’s rhyming his ass off, he’s one of the hottest MCs out there. Creative, exciting to listen to, and mysterious as well as for his performances and appearances and what have you. So it’s kind of the stuff that we were into period, and hearing MCs like that places makes us like to hear them on an everyday basis. So when we heard the track that Jake1 in Seattle had produced, we were like, “This is the menacing, mysterious sound that I would love to hear Doom on.” So naturally, when we hear it, we just approach the individual that we hear on it. He’s like, “No problem, come on through, let’s do it.”
For us, I feel like we never really go through any tough times trying to get an artist. We have approached some who are like, “No, I don’t want to do it,” or “I can’t.” But 90 percent of the time when we go to somebody and we really feel like a song would really compliment them and vice versa, they feel it as well. When Doom heard the beat, he was like “I want to do this, this is crazy.” When Ghost heard the joint, he was like, “I want to rhyme on that.” So we try to have a good ear for who should be on what, and most of the time they hear it as well, so they get down.
HipHopSite: How do you guys manage to have guest appearances that big, while still keeping it a real De La Soul album?
Dave: Honestly, I think we put people in a position to challenge themselves; they sort of have to try to come into our world. I have to honestly say, we hold our weight. But on my end, I can certainly say that on something like the Doom record….Doom kills it, but does he kill it better than Dave? Personally, I think he definitely reps it out, and kills it better than Dave. But at the same time, we try to make sure that people come into our world, and sometimes conform to what we’re doing, to make it sound like everybody’s in sync as a unit. Everybody’s complimenting a track, and you respect each individual for what they do. With De La Soul, it’s not about getting somebody in there because they’re the hot item, and they’re going to blow up your record while and you just fall back and add the spice here and there. When we do a song, we come together, we sit down and talk about the concept so everybody can come in 33 percent and create 100 when it comes to rhymes. Here’s the idea: get it, come into our world, feel what we do. If you need to hear ours first to understand, here they go; if not, let’s write them together. With the Common track, we wrote the chorus together. I think it’s really sitting down and putting it together, as opposed to, “I need 16 bars, let me mail you the session via e-mail and you send it back to me.” We try to pull the person in as the third MC or the fourth member of the group, and work together on it so there’s some sort of cohesiveness, as opposed to one person shining and the others are not.
HipHopSite: How did your situation with Tommy Boy go sour?
Dave: It wasn’t actually between us and Tommy Boy; fortunately, it’s not like we had a falling out and got taken off of the label. Unfortunately, (Tommy Boy founder) Tom Silverman’s business ended the deal with Warner Bros. Due to what kind of commitment he had on himself that he couldn’t deliver on, they basically pulled all his artists and took all of his masters throughout the years of Tommy Boy’s existence as payback for what he owed. It left him with no artists, no catalog, no anything.
We got pulled from Tommy Boy into the system, and we ended up Elektra first. Elektra felt like they didn’t have the time, they weren’t on the same angle of where we were coming from as far as putting out records in the future. So we were about to go to Atlantic, and then from Atlantic, Warner Bros. just wanted to pull us up. As opposed to just being shuffled and maybe eventually sell, we had friends up at Warner Bros. in high places, and we asked for a release. Just (something to the effect of), “Can we get out of this, because we feel like what’s going to happen is that De La is going to be sitting around for a little while.” These people at the executive end of things and high places were fans, and were like, “That is exactly what was going to happen. We’d rather let you guys go, to just make great music somewhere else instead of just caging you.” So we were out of there.
HipHopSite: With some comments you guys made on the album, it doesn’t seem like it was the most friendly breakup.
Dave: It really wasn’t. (But) We bumped into Tom Silverman on maybe two or three occasions since then, and he asked us how we were doing over at Sanctuary and how our business was coming along, just as much as we asked him how he was doing. We did have beef with Tom and the company when it was about promoting our albums, and putting the money into it, and even just the effort and the love into it. Yeah we had problems, just like any other label, or any other company when you’re trying to sell a product. But at the end of the day, it’s a legacy. We’d been at Tom Silverman’s label since day one; we stuck through it for six albums, and we worked things out made some good music. There’s never going to be anything sour about it; we’re so relieved to be out of that machine and out of that company, but there’s no bad blood. We move on and do what we’ve gotta do.
HipHopSite: How’d you hook up with Sanctuary?
Dave: There were maybe five or six companies who were coming at us, trying to figure out where we were at, and what we had. We didn’t want to just get signed to a label as just artists again, we didn’t want to do what we did with Tommy Boy. We wanted to get in the driver’s seat just as much as the label was. Our first idea was to do a split venture with the company; there were only two companies willing to do that, the first was Sanctuary, and I believe the other one was Riko. Sanctuary presented the better deal; and then finding out that Matthew (Knowles, father of R&B star BeyoncÃ© Knowles) was going to be a part of a portion of Sanctuary that was going to be dedicated to urban music only (helped the decision). We felt more comfortable, knowing that his power, his strength, his history, his relevance with today’s music, would help us as well. Hearing that Matthew was getting on board, and knowing that Sanctuary brought the best deal to the table, that was the best option.
HipHopSite: With you guys’ respect from all over, from hip-hop heads and other artists to critics, why do you think that it hasn’t reflected in terms of record sales?
Posdnuos: 3 Feet High and Rising was a very critically acclaimed album, but if you didn’t have “Me, Myself and I” for that time and period to sell the record and make it go every place, I think sales would’ve been low for that as well. It’s all about marketing; you should make your art the way you want to make it, but when it comes to marketing that art, and giving it to some people, that’s a big part of it. In these days and times, it’s a lot different, because people look to one place to try and get art and try to understand things. They may look to one particular radio station, and if they don’t hear a song on that radio station, they evict themselves. “I heard this song because someone else is playing it, and I think it’s dope, but since it’s not being bombarded on me on the hottest radio station in this city, and since I don’t see it on TRL or BET, it’s not making me want to go out and get it.” I think that’s the whole point; I think we as consumers these days are all caught up in hype. Of course you’re going to go out and buy Jay-Z, because Jay-Z’s got plaques on the wall, you’re going to hear it advertised on the radio station, you’re going to see the TV commercial, you’re going to the commercial during the music show. It’s just the shit that’s got to be bombarded to you. If you’re not bombarded with it, you may not buy it, or you may not even know it exists. I run into fans who love De La, and still to this day are asking me when the new album comes out, when it came out October 5.
HipHopSite: You’ve been in the game for 15 years. How has it changed since you came in?
Posdnuos: One of the biggest changes is that a lot of people, whether they’re from an urban community or not, there’s a lot of artists are really able to survive off of this music. They’re able to get people in their corner to help them get money, and live and prosper. In that respect, that’s one of the great things that has changed.
One of the most unfortunate things is that it’s not balanced music out. When we first came out, you could have Public Enemy talking about what they’re talking about, and Naughty By Nature talking about what they’re talking about. You could have N.W.A, you could have us. When we came out, we were on tour with LL, Slick Rick, N.W.A., all these different people, all together on one stage. That’s the difference. There’s just not that balance of music; there’s Jada, and there’s Common, but it’s a lot of Common’s lacking. You’ve got Mos, but Fugees aren’t around no more, Tribe’s not around no more, you aren’t even sure if Outkast is going to stay together. A lot of the more so-called “agreeable” groups, or groups that just don’t talk about the norm…which is mostly partying, or maybe street vibe of music…those artists aren’t around as much.
HipHopSite: You’ve got a new album, and a new label. What’s next?
Posdnuos: Just trying our best to get this album off the ground. Also, getting our own label, which is a partnership through the label that we’re a part of; our label is AOI Records, and we’re partnered with Sanctuary Urban Records Group. With that, as obviously making more money, comes more responsibility. We were always very into our projects, but now there’s a lot of things, even financially, that we’re responsible for as an active record label. So we’re just trying to get all that correct, get whoever we need to hire to make sure that all that is correct with the label, people are wanting to submit demos. So just getting our own label off the ground and trying to become great execs in this game.
HipHopSite: How many albums do you guys think you have left in you?
Posdnuos: Honestly, making music is a gift I think we’ve been blessed to have. So as far as wanting to just constantly grow with it, the way you’re growing and learning knowledge with reading books, it’s the same with music. I feel like we can make music as long as people want us around. As long as Aerosmith has been around in there genre of music, they’re allowed to be around the same as U2; we look at ourselves the same way. We stay abreast on what’s going on, and we’re a very functional as a group that can remain relevant in whatever times we’re part of. We’ll continue to always give our best, and saying that, we would love to be around for however long people would want us around.
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