Trevor Reekie had the opportunity to discuss a remarkable three-decade-long career with De La Soul founding members Posdnuos and Dave, before their 2016 WOMAD performance.
They met in 1985 at junior High School as kids, hailing from Long Island, New York and in 1989 went on to deliver their debut album 3 Feet High and Rising which achieved spectacular global success in 1990.
3 Feet High and Rising, (a title adapted from a Johnny Cash song), was produced by DJ and musician Prince Paul. As Paul said in Brian Coleman’s book, Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies: "If there was ever a sign of the existence of God, De La Soul would be that proof to me. I’ve never had such a perfect fit in any other production situation."
The album was released by the influential Hip Hop label, Tommy Boy records and includes literally hundreds of samples, some of them pure comedy, which gave the album a significant point of difference (and endless legal challenges). It remains their biggest selling album and it still sounds fresh. The album was selected in 2010 by the American Library of Congress as having ‘a cultural, historical and aesthetic significance’. Not bad for a bunch of kids musically informed by their own hip hop hero’s and intent on just having a good time.
However, the unprecedented success of their first album begs the question of how did De La Soul move forward from having such a massive hit straight away? Posdnuos responded that they deliberately shied away from using the same sort of ingredients they stumbled upon making for that debut success. For them, just having fun and sticking to their instincts was the formulae. Their second album De La Soul is Dead was a reaction to the industry pressure of repeating themselves and resulted in them moving forward with their sampling and experimentation.
De La soul has gone on to survive a myriad of changes over the years, in both the culture of Hip Hop and the Recording Industry. They concede that De La Soul has always been a little to the ‘left of what was happening’ in the genre of Hip Hop. But hey equally maintain that the reason they are still active today is that De La Soul never tried to repeat something that was successful, they learned to run their own business, even when they were dropped from their record deal, and they also never lost the motivation in their own belief - and crucially, they never stopped touring.
In March 2015, De La Soul created a Kick-starter campaign to help fund their forthcoming album The Anonymous Nobody. It surpassed the original goal of $110,000 in under ten hours – it turned out to be a blessing, and as Dave said, equally a curse. “It was one of those things where people saw that De La soul had close to three quarters of a million dollars and wanted to get in on it … it got nasty at times … but honest truth, not one dollar of it went in our pockets. It went straight to the (new) album”
- Nick Bollinger reviews The Anonymous Nobody
Asked how they view the genre of Hip Hop at the moment, both as a business and creatively, they responded that as a business it’s thriving and “creatively it’s great to see young people establishing themselves…Hip hop musically has gone in a direction that's not necessarily ours, but we can sit down and appreciate it where it should be applauded…over all I think it allows us to study and learn, and get an idea of what else we can do”
De La Soul is proud to consider that, as broad as it sounds, they are ‘the past, the present and the future’.