De La Soul: Brooklyn Bodega's Exclusive Interview
Pete Rock and CL Smooth were there. So were Greg Nice and Smooth B and Dres and DJ Premier. Masta Ace and Craig G were milling about just after performing, right next to Marley Marl and Large Professor. Even Edwin Birdsong and Michael Rapaport were there breaking bread with Hip-Hop’s living history; the cultivators of The Culture.
It literally felt like a family reunion in the BHF10 Artists section. Like one big Golden Era family reunion (minus the matching T-shirts). Daps and hugs went around like cyphers. Cats couldn’t wait to catch up — to reminisce for a spell — with fellow flag bearers.
And at the center of it all stood that day’s head lining act, De La Soul, just as elated as every other legend.
Pos, Mase and Dave have seamlessly crafted a twenty-one year career laced with a laser aimed focus on artistic reinvention and genre pushing creativity. They’ve bucked industry pressure to conform to commercial trends, and in the process, consistently redefined the look and sound of Hip-Hop. Most impressively, they’ve never disbanded.
As Mase and Dave tell it, the reason that De La’s remained united since 1989 is simply because, before everything else, they’re friends. Before the classic albums and world tours and international accolades, Plugs 1, 2 and 3 were just high school homies who loved making Hip-Hop music; who loved the atmosphere and natural high that came with working together towards a common goal. While most of their contemporaries broke up over misunderstandings, individual aspirations and industry bullshit — Pos, Mase and Dave continued to build on the bond formed back in Amityville, Long Island by maintaining the foundation of their legacy: friendship.
BrooklynBodega.com spoke with each member of De La Soul — in between the daps and hugs going around the Golden Era Family Reunion — about stylistic influences, why Tupac dissed them on Makaveli, the reasons why the Native Tongues reunion never happened and how they’ve managed to remain unified since the first Bush administration.
BB: [What is interesting about BHF10] is that we have you guys headlining and we have Duck Down 15th Anniversary performing. Out of all the [Golden Era] groups, you are two of the few that have stayed together. What’s the secret? Why have so many groups let strife separate them and what has kept you together?
Maseo: To tell you the truth, there ain’t no real secret. And it might sound corny — maybe even a little cliche — but, yo, we’re just friends, man. Friends who started this when we were in high school. We started this when we were in high school, so we always had a common goal to be a group and do this together. There weren’t [any] hidden agendas, no side agendas. As time went along, we did see the different opportunities of side projects, but to me, De La is the three of us. It don’t feel right if ain’t the three of us. I can’t see getting on stage with another group. [In the past] I have — I’ve gotten on stage with Mos [Def] and Common out of the support of what we supported them doing and granted [the opportunity] to come back to even the share the stage with them as a deejay at times when they needed one — it don’t feel the same as rocking with my two guys. It’s magic! I can’t even really explain it.
Me and Pos did a show last night without Dave because Dave was sick. No matter how hard we try, you know that there is something missing. I guess it’s the same thing that Run and [DMC] had with [Jam Master Jay], just as a group that shares what we have with one another. And I think it’s got a lot to do with coming from that era. And the thing that I’ve noticed that have broken up groups, it’s only three basic things: women, money, and drugs. We don’t have that problem. I’m not messing with my man’s girl, nor am I stealing his money. And if anything, everybody just smokes a little weed, maybe drink a little shot, know what I mean. Anything outside of that is unheard of. These are my people, man!
BB: So it’s literally a family?
Maseo: Yeah, it’s a family because we do fight. The best thing about family is working out your problems. And when you can [work] out your problems, then that’s how you know you’ve got something. We’ve got family here. The energy I think people feel [when] we’re on stage doing our thing — you could hear the same songs over and over, you can probably see the show a thousand times — I think people enjoy the unity we have as friends and family. It may sound cliche, but it is what it is. I mean I’m 40, [Pos] is 41, Dave is 42 — what the fuck else am I gonna do?! Where else am I gonna go?! [Laughs]
BB: Dave, I just spoke to Mase briefly and [mentioned that] with you and Duck Down here at the same time, we have two groups that have been able to stay together for fifteen and twenty years and not break up. I asked him what is the secret to staying together and he said that it’s not really a secret. It’s just that you all are friends first.
Dave: Yeah, and that’s exactly it. You know, myself, Pos and Mase — we enjoy what we do. When we do what we do, it becomes a special vibe because it’s just what we bring to the table. And that’s not just to say what we do in the studio, it’s like hanging out just as friends, bugging out. If a person can add on to an atmosphere to a conversation and make you feel comfortable in that setting, [it’s] something that you never want to give up. I often describe it as the best high ever. You can smoke weed, sniff, shoot drugs, whatever you want to do — this is like the best drug for us, being together. So, it’s something that we enjoy and there’s always going to be beef, there’s always going to be putting your hands up every now and then, arguing or what have you. But at the end of the day, this is the best high we get being together so we’re here, man. We’re here.
BB: Like I mentioned before, AOI: Bionix is the reason why I ended up digging through your catalog. That was the album that really grabbed me. Your older stuff is great, but there is something about that album.
Pos: Thank you. I love Bionix. I love when people talk about 3 Feet High and Rising and what it means. It’s such a special album to me. It was our first album. But Bionix, everything that went into making it — even the problems at home to just try to complete the album and everything that happened around 9/11 — all that was happening when that album was done. So, it’s a lot of special moments within that album that was embraced and put into that tape.
BB: Stylistically, when you guys came in you had a very conversational style between the three of you. Off-kilter in a sense, certainly an uncommon way of riding the beat initially. We’ve seen you switch it up. We’ve seen the Greg Nice style from you, for example. We’ve seen different styles over the years. Stylistically, who were your influences and how did you develop such an original approach to the track?
Dave: You know, for us it’s just listening to so many different types of music, and honestly, really absorbing and studying lyricists. When you grow up in Hip-Hop you talk about Ultramagnetic [MCs], you talk about KRS-One — folks who come in with styles, but it’s also sound too. Sound can you give you a vibe, it can give you some sort of something to absorb too as far as style is concerned. Our ears just stay open to everything. It’s not just Hip-Hop, of course. Like I said, it’s sound. It can be a bird. It can be a train. It can be a horn. It’s just sound. Sonically we absorb so much and we use that in whatever we do. It’s endless for us.
Pos: It’s definitely listening to various types of music. Listening to different sounds. Honestly, the cadence for “Plug Tunin’”, I gained that from just hearing the way water was dropping in the sink. So, just listening to different things that added on to what you want to incorporate into the music is how we were doing it from day one.
BB: In an interview with flashpointgrafix.com, you mentioned that the one thing you regret is giving your masters over to Tommy Boy. We’re still waiting on AOI part III (the DJ album). I know that The Grind Date didn’t really embody that project at all, but when I listen to Are You In? it feels kind of like a deejay album in a sense because it’s very break heavy. Is there a chance that we’ll ever hear the third installment of AOI or a new version of it?
Dave: I think that you will hear that record. We said this last week when we were at Essence Fest doing a couple of interviews for Essence Magazine, we’re not one of those groups that has anything slated. There’s not a slated time for a new album to come out. We don’t try, we talk about it, but when we feel it, it’s going to happen. Trust that AOI part III is going to happen. When? We don’t know. But we feel it. We know what the album is about. We know what the album will sound like. We just haven’t done it yet. When it happens, you’ll hear it. It’s going to happen.
BB: I have to ask you this question. It’s a weird question and I can’t anticipate how you’re going to respond to it, but I’ve wondered about this for thirteen years now. On “Against All Odds” by Tupac [off the Makaveli album], somehow De La’s name came into the conversation. How did you guys end up on that track? Was that just what ‘Pac was on at the time, or was there an actual conversation or incident that [prompted him to diss you]?
Dave: From what we hear and what we know, even after having the opportunity to speak to one of Tupac’s sisters — Pac thought we were dissing him in the “Ego Trippin’” video. He thought the guy that was in the hot tub and bald headed, he thought we were spoofing him. We had love for Pac, man. That’s family. For us in the Hip-Hop world, he was one of the realest dudes out there. He wasn’t afraid of bearing his soul. Pac was so fearless it was inspirational. You know, it was something that he misconstrued, it was something that he thought, and it was all wrong. We never got a chance to vocalize it between each other but, even through his family, his blood, we’ve heard that Pac loved De La. He just felt like we dissed him. And if you love somebody that much and you think they diss you, I understand how you might take it personally. But we’ve got love for Pac. That’s straight love.
Pos: Basically, we had did “Ego Tripping” the video [in 1993]. Pac had reached out to us because he thought we were dissing him because he thought that the video kind of mirrored “I Get Around”. He thought we were showing him in the mansion but then we were saying it wasn’t his mansion. Pac reached out like “yo, I love y’all. I love y’all so why are ya’ll dissing me?”. And I reached back to him like “dawg, we’re definitely not dissing you. We’re being clowns making fun of how certain people take the shit a little too serious” and he was like “aight, cool” [when] he reached back. But then I guess around the time when we put Stakes Is High out, and then all that nonsense happened between me and Treach [from Naughty By Nature] and all that other shit, Pac and Treach were [tight]. And the only reason I know the background behind this is because, maybe two years ago, I ran into Pac’s sister and she let us know that “yo, he loved y’all. He was just hurt when he thought maybe y’all dissed him”. And then how, with Stakes Is High, we came out doing what we was doing, he felt like, with his boys, like “yo, this is what I need to say”. But [Pac’s sister] was like “I want y’all to know, he loved y’all”. And I feel that. I feel like a lot of times [for example] when [MC] Shan and KRS-One beef, I don’t think people really hate each other. That’s definitely how it was for us. We loved Pac. We’ve loved so many groups. We’ve never tried to be a part of anything negative.
BB: I always felt there were a lot of similarities between De La and Pac because neither of you have ever been afraid to express all of yourselves.
Dave: That’s an inspirational dude. We don’t jump on that Tupac/Biggie bandwagon. We study cats and Pac is one of the bravest guys out there. Lyrically and on record — to bear his soul and talk about his mom, talk about how he loves, or a child, or heartbreak or heartache or what have you — that’s an amazing thing. We respect what Pac does to this day. We listen to his music just as much as we listened to him the first time he was out putting records with Digital Underground. So, that’s someone we love. Never no beef. Never no beef.
BB: As a journalist, I have to ask this question. Recently in an interview with HHDX, Consequence asserted that the Native Tongues reunion in 1996/97 never happened because Afrika Bam [and] The Jungle Brothers interrupted the process. Is that an accurate assertion?
Pos: No, it wasn’t necessarily the Jungle Brothers. They had a gripe to get out, Afrika definitely had a gripe to get out. I think [A Tribe Called Quest] was recording Beats, Rhymes and Life, we had obviously dropped Stakes Is High, that’s when we all came together to talk together. And I think at one point, Jungle felt that Tribe really wasn’t adhering to several things that we had kind of spoke on, so it just remained to be some type of unfortunate beef between an individual in that group and an individual in their group. And I ain’t gonna lie about it, it was Afrika.
Even to speak on it right now, I love him, B. Where he is and what he’s doing with his life, all I can wish is that he strives and he do what he needs to do. And I hate the fact that — me and Ali Shaheed was together yesterday and we talked about this — that it’ll take something as horrible as someone dying, like say Guru can die and maybe Premier and Guru really wasn’t where they should’ve been, and you got to live with that forever. You don’t want to do that. You want to realize that you’re old enough to be like “yo man, all that stuff we went through when we were 17 [years old], we’re 40 years old now! We’ve got kids. Lets get past that”. And hopefully we can get there where Native Tongues could do stuff together because everyone can get in sync with each other.
Dave: I like to keep in one hundred, man. I don’t speak too much, but when I speak I think that people respect what I have to say. There’s a lot people in the Native Tongues that’s fronting. People don’t want to really say how they truly feel. N***** want to talk about what sounds good and what sounds right to say. But there are a lot of people in the Native Tongues who don’t want to f*ck with each other because of what they feel personally, how they feel about people’s music or careers or whatever path they took. And it’s a whole lot of lying going on with each other. There’s a few of us who I can say that are true and there’s a couple of us who are bullshitters. And I think that’s whats holding it back. No one is truly being honest with each other. We would love to come together and do a tour and do an album or what have you, but when there’s people on the sidelines in the midst of the circle saying ‘You know, I don’t really wanna f*ck with them‘ but not saying it, it never works out. I think that’s whats going on.
BB: I listen to “Buddy” and think about how crazy the metaphor is that you guys run. Then I listen to “Pawn Star” and think about how it’s just some raw, raunchy, pornographic shit. And then I listen to “Trying People” and wonder how you end up with “Pawn Star” and “Trying People” on the same album. They’re both crazy honest, but very different.
Dave: I think that’s who we all are. We have all different parts of who we are. And when I’m with my peoples in [Amityville, Long Island], that’s how we are. When I’m with peoples over here on this side of the fence, that’s who we are. Just like you know how to conduct yourself when you go into the office for an interview, you know how to speak, you know how to conduct yourself. When you’re on the streets with your friends you know, you do what you do. And I think that’s what “Pawn Star” is as opposed to “Trying People” — they’re different facets of who we are. We all can be wild, crazy sex addicts or drug addicts or whatever we are. But I think there is a sensible side to us as well. You know, people who definitely want to speak about truth, speak about striving and progressing. It’s just who we are. It’s every bit of who we are.
BB: Well, I have to say that I agree with Pos on The Grind Date: “How can anybody say [you’re] not the top of the game n*****? The top of the n***** are the ones that’s producing throughout their careers”.
Dave: Throughout their careers, that’s absolutely true. We try, man. It’s important to us. We don’t want to be considered as legends and keep it back there, you know, in 1989. We want to just keep on doing great work. If it’s putting out a beautiful sneaker, if it’s putting out a great kids record, if it’s putting out an album, if it’s doing a show — we just want to do good things.
BB: Over the past two months, we’ve reached out to everyone that has rocked the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival in years past. We wanted quotes from different people about you; different artists, your peers. I’d like to read a quote to you and gauge your reaction.
Read: De La Soul: Peer Love
You guys have received praise — and rightfully so — from every publication and artist now. But in your own words, how do you feel about the legacy of De La and your accomplishments through your career?
Pos: It’s not — for me — it’s nothing that’s going to be a big thing I can even bring forth behind what those great dudes who I respect says because, when I look an album like 3 Feet High and Rising, I look at it differently. I look at all the mistakes that were in there and how it could’ve been better. That’s how I look at my music. I think about what could have been better as opposed to appreciating it. So, I just don’t get the same opportunity as a person who loves what I do to appreciate my music because — and I’m telling you, dawg, I’m not lying to you, I’m not trying to be humble about it at all — I don’t see myself as a really dope rapper. But I think that’s why I can be honest with myself and know that I’ve improved because I’ve always looked at myself like “yo, this dude right here [Dave], he’s amazing to me”. Dave, he’s been like that constantly. I can look back at albums from 3 Feet High and Rising up until now and see how I maybe had subject matter and been able to share my frailty in a sense, but [my] styles was a little off. I can see where I grew because I was so aware of how good I felt I wasn’t. When we got on our Stakes Is High days and I was hanging around Mos [Def], I was like “Oh hell no!”. They helped me step my bars up and that’s what I love. I really see myself as a person striving to hopefully — God willing — to one day be recognized as like the Nas’ and the Biggies. And a lot of people feel like “no, you are” but it’s just me and I don’t see myself like that. But I love the fact that I don’t because I’m not comfortable at all where I am and with what I’ve accomplished. I always, always, always — with [Dave] and Mase — always want to do something better. And that’s why, honestly, it takes so long sometimes for us to come out with an album, because I can play stuff from Mos and all these people while we’re on the bus and be like “yo, why even put this out yet” because we are kind of our own tough critics. We’re trying to top Bionix. It’s kind of hard to do but that’s what we’re trying to do.
BB: You have so many fans all over the place. You just mentioned that you’ll listen to Mos‘ album and think you have to step your game up. Are there any new artists that you’re feeling? Are there any younger cats that you like and how do you feel about the way Hip-Hop is right now?
Pos: Overall, creativity is definitely lacking. But there’s always good groups, man. There’s always new things that I can hear. There’s new things that I hear from the South. It can be a rhyme that Jeezy said [and I’m like] “Whoa!”. There are things that Lil Wayne says, there’s always things that I hear that I think sounds dope. One of the groups that I’ve been stuck on for a minute — I’ve known Oddissee for the longest — but his project Diamond District, I’m stuck on them n*****. I love Diamond District. I play that shit every day…
BB: You missed them. They rocked earlier today.
Pos: I know. Religiously, I rock with them. I mess with them. So there’s always stuff that I can hear and pull it out like “Whoa, that feels good”, but I must honestly say, there’s not a lot of albums that I can be like as an album — whereas what I’m used to with NWA and LL [Cool J] or Pete [Rock], we all have albums — it’s not too many albums that are complete albums to me, that meet the standards that I hold to be an album. But I can always, I swear I tell people “just don’t think that because I’m Pos from De La Soul that I don’t like a Wiz Khalifa”. If I hear something that he spits that makes sense to me, and it moves me, I love it. At the end of the day, Too Short wasn’t the most lyrical dude. But when he spoke truth from his heart, I loved it. [With] Pac — if maybe you put him next to BIG he didn’t flip words the way a New York lyrical dude would — but no one could ever dispute the heart, the way he bled his life into a pen. So that’s what you learn to respect, different aspects of different people.
BB: You’re Welcome, are we getting that in 2010?
Pos: Definitely. It’s coming together. Some of the early stuff right now sounds really on point. We’re actually about to start leaking some stuff in the next three weeks.
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