While music genres like rock n’ roll have always been reverential of historical artists and bands, hip-hop has been less inclined to embrace nostalgia. Hip-hop has always been about that new new. Sometimes you’ll listen to a rap radio station and they’ll play a track labeled as a throwback and think, “Didn’t that song come out like eight months ago?”
Still, the 90s will always be viewed as the golden age of hip-hop, the era of Tribe, Biggie, Tupac, and Wu-Tang. Many artists of that time have moved on, some are no longer with us, and others transitioned to new pursuits. Not De La Soul. Since their seminal debut album 3 Feet High And Rising came out in 1989, Maseo, Pos, and Dave have continued making music together as a group and pushing themselves creatively and evolving. When the group wanted to put out an album last spring, they didn’t do what they would’ve done in the 90s (i.e. look for a major label to back it), they took to Kickstarter and the campaign was an enormous success. De La Soul set a goal of $110,000—and ended up raising $600,829—becoming the second most-funded campaign in Kickstarter’s history.
Now that album, titled And The Anonymous Nobody, is set to release this August. It will have a diverse list of features that only De La Soul could pull off like David Byrne, 2 Chainz, Estelle, and Snoop Dogg. They also played at this past weekend’s Governors Ball to a crowd that definitely didn’t view them as the “old school” act on the bill. Before their performance, we caught up with Maseo, Dave, and Pos following a roundtable discussion with the electronic music duo The Knocks that was hosted by Bacardi. On a balcony overlooking Williamsburg, Brooklyn, De La Soul discussed their approach to the new album, their trendsetting style influence, and their famous Nike SB Dunk.
What should fans expect from the new album?
MASEO: Good shit, awesome fucking music. [laughs]
DAVE: Pretty much. This album is definitely about the music. Not theme, not any song, but the actual music. We sat in a studio with the Rhythm Roots All-Stars out of L.A. They were our house band on tour for many years. We basically let those guys jam with a little direction. We did that for over 200 hours and recorded it for two years. Then we took about a year to listen to that stuff and pull samples and tidbits out to create songs.
That’s not the way you’d record a typical rap album.
POS: It was this amazing journey. We were thinking about bands that we sample from and love and we realized that this was how things happened for them. They would just do these great jam sessions and sections of the jam session became the record. Usually we would have music produced by ourselves or outside producers and then you would imagine what you could do to this track that’s already been given to you, as opposed to now having the ability with these musicians to create and create and create however you want.
Were you blown away by the success of the Kickstarter campaign to support the album?
DAVE: That was overwhelming and refreshing.
MASEO: It was scary.
DAVE: Before that button was pressed to begin, it was scary because you didn’t know who was out there, who was interested, who was going to put their money up.
POS: We were vulnerable. This could not work and we’ll look old school. We’ll look unwanted.
DAVE: But the support was tremendous and humbling. People wanted this music. They believed in our concept going. People got it and that was a good feeling.
You guys have had an enormous influence, not just with your music, but with your style. Was that a conscious decision as you were coming up?
POS: It grew and grew. We were no different than any kid growing up in our neighborhoods wanting to have the gold chain like Run-DMC or the Nikes that KRS One wore. We wanted to look good but we were interested in trying different things to do it. Dave would be like, ‘Let’s take our father’s old pants that were bell bottoms but straight leg them. Then they’ll look how Lee’s look, but the patterns will be different.’ We kept going further and further with it, like let’s cut different things in our hair. We were around an environment that accepted it and allowed us to keep going. You can see it with someone like Andre 3000 who had regular sneakers on his first album and grew visually with how he wanted to express himself. When your friends accept how you look and allow you to be you, it just makes you want to venture out a little bit more and try different things.
What is it like for you to see every 90s act coming back, even some of the bad ones?
DAVE: You giggle off the fact that you didn’t break when people said, 'you guys are corny’ or 'why would you wear that?’ More than just fashion, there was a time when we could’ve done commercials or TV or things like that and it was like no, don’t do that. That’s selling out. Now everyone’s trying to get their own TV show or extend their brand and be down with a car company. I’m glad people didn’t have to experience some of the things that we experienced, the pressure of not doing something that could’ve been interesting and beneficial because of pressure of what other people would think. It’s nice seeing young kids enter this world and not be afraid of doing things because someone says it’s not cool.
POS: That Fresh Prince show, when they were trying to put together the concept, they pitched it to us. We didn’t want to do it because it sounded corny.
To do the theme song?
DAVE: No, to do the show. To read the script, be a part of the show.
POS: I could’ve been married to Jada! [laughs]
Your Nike SB Dunk is a legendary sneaker. How did that project come about?
POS: We were out in San Diego, and LRG, which was a company that we knew, wanted us to come by [their trade show booth]. We went and walked around and saw the Nike SB booth. A gentleman named Robbie Jeffers was working with Nike SB and was a big De La fan and asked, 'Would you be interested in doing a Nike SB De La dunk?’ The rest is history.
The sneaker also stands out because it’s one of the rare ones that has been reissued, right?
DAVE: I believe they did the Tiffany Dunk over and there might have been one other. But it was nice to know that they wanted to revisit it, not only because it would be lucrative, but because it was a nice sneaker. Getting the opportunity to revisit it 10 years later and do an anniversary Dunk felt good.
Are you big sneakerheads?
POS: I love sneakers.
MASEO: To a degree.
DAVE: We’re not super crazy.
You came up in the era where you still had to hunt for unique sneakers. Do you feel that has changed?
POS: Yeah. We would be on the road and be in Japan and come across something that was so amazing and you knew you could come home and no one else would have it. Now it’s just: push a button and everyone’s got what you have. That definitely killed the ability to one-up someone.
Why do you think hip-hop plays such a big role in fashion?
DAVE: Hip-hop is super huge so why not? At the same time I think people are realizing that not only do we want to get A$AP Rocky to wear our clothing because he’s cool in the hood, but A$AP Rocky actually has design and fashion sense and maybe he can be a part of our team and create a shirt or a pair of pants. These kids are talented. They have the ability to be more than just the face of a company. I’m hoping that’s why designers are entrusting these artists.
MASEO: We’re also in the era of designers who grew up off hip-hop, so they have a different sensibility because [hip-hop] was a part of their lifestyle when they were aspiring to be a designer.
Who are the artists that you see picking things up where you left off from a style perspective?
POS: The usual suspects, Kendrick, J. Cole, or even Odd Future. Believe it or not, I think Migos is like De La Soul. That energy of trying to be different is there.
DAVE: I agree. It might not be what you run to iTunes to purchase but you can identify in a group like Migos and that they want to be different. They want to challenge what’s happening. It might be in the vein of what’s happening but they’re a little left of center. Mase always brings up Chance The Rapper and Schoolboy Q who are doing more than glorifying being wealthy or being a gangster, people who are trying to put more creativity in the game. They exist. They’re still out there.