De La Soul Is Alive & Working On The Album Of Its Career (Interview)

This past weekend, New York was the site for a listening party for fans of De La Soul who contributed to the group’s historic Kickstarter campaign. Their crowdfunding campaign for their forthcoming album, and the Anonymous Nobody, raised more than six hundred thousand dollars and as a thank you, Maseo, Posdnuos, and Dave (f/k/a Trugoy) hosted the intimate event, playing a handful of tracks from the new LP as well as a couple of their throwback hits. To no great surprise, the festivities were low on frills but overflowing with humility, characteristics the group has embodied since their 1989 debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising. Fans were able to mingle with the group, some of whom could be seen getting De La Soul merchandise autographed, others posing for pictures with their favorite members, and longtime friends of theirs could be seen chatting with younger fans, exchanging stories about the group and its history. Specialized De La Soul cupcakes were shared, and the room was simply engulfed in love.

De La Soul Listening Event for "And the Anonymous Nobody" NYC

De La Soul at the New York City listening event for their upcoming album, and the Anonymous Nobody

All three members took time to address the crowd, speaking directly to the men and women who are directly responsible for the celebration, a fact not lost on the gentlemen. The gratefulness was mutual, as De La Heads uproariously applauded after every song. Pos’ played joints from his personal laptop, closing his eyes and bopping along to track after track, emitting the same level of delight and glee as the fans. At one point in the evening, he took to the mic to express his feelings that this is his favorite album of theirs, and there was no room left for any doubt; The Anonymous Nobody is so obviously a labor of love, from its surprisingly bold guest collaborators (2 Chainz and Little Dragon, for example) to its whimsically brilliant cover art. Ahead of the event, the guys sat down with Ambrosia for Heads and offered a glimpse into their collective mindset going into the recording, promotion, and release of the album.

Ambrosia for Heads: The Anonymous Nobody is going to be the first De La Soul album in 11 years. What has been the single-most important thing, whether personally or creatively, that has changed in the last decade or so and inspiring you artistically this time around?

Maseo: Independence. Not being a part of the record label in its traditional sense…being our own record label, and doing what we think the label should have done in the past. Also, having more ownership as well.

Dave: I’d say the fans. I think people have come to support us in doing this record. This record is something that we’d obviously planned on doing but it’s obvious that the route we took to begin working on it was propelled by popular demand, you know? And I think that, for me, I can’t disappoint them. You gotta satisfy these people who said “I’m gonna give them my money. I love these guys.” The amount of flattery makes you wanna not disappoint them or make yourself look bad. I’m supposed to be dope…

Ambrosia for Heads: And maybe that flattery will make you want to repeat the same process the next time around?

Dave: [Laughs]. I know, right? I think that, you know, just the way that we did this record via Kickstarter, especially…I would love to continue doing it like that. I think, especially if the people are satisfied, we realize we have a fan base and community that will be there, funding and supporting, and making these things happen. It’s a great exchange.

Ambrosia for Heads: What’s the story behind the album’s title? Who are you guys talking about with the term “anonymous nobody,” and does it apply on both a micro and macro level?

Dave: I guess it’s on a grand scale. I think it’s the individual that steps up and stands for something, you know? I thought it was a nice set of words; that’s how it really started. I basically used the name when I do donations and stuff, anonymously. So I brought it up to the guys and it kinda made sense with what we were doing. You know, you’ve got a group of people who come together, selfless, who just say “I wanna get down with this project,” and stood up for something that’s cool. I don’t think people do that too much anymore. For me, personally, I think the anonymous nobody is the person who doesn’t need to say “I was part of it, I’m this person. I’m an every day person who just wants to contribute.”

De La Soul Listening Event

Ambrosia for Heads: You guys have announced that Usher, Pete Rock, Estelle, Snoop Dogg, Roc Marciano, 2 Chainz, Little Dragon, and others are featured on the album. For the most part, you haven’t worked with these artists on as big of a project. Were these artists specifically chosen for this album as a means of thanking the fans who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign?

Posdnuos: I mean, I think that process is what we would normally do, on any album. Whatever music we’re working on, one of us will say to the others, “You know, this sounds like it could have this person or that person on it.” So it really came about that way, even with these artists. One track that we had, Dave was like “yo, I hear 2 Chainz doing the chorus, like I can hear it.” So we reached out, and he was like “I don’t wanna do the chorus, I wanna rhyme,” so that’s how that happened. So that aspect is really the same as it always was. I would say, if anything, creatively we didn’t want to do the normal thing like, “Hey, let’s get Common, Q-Tip.” We want to challenge ourselves creatively and find a marriage between us and somebody you wouldn’t expect.

Maseo: And the music always dictated that, which makes it easy. Music makes it easy to get that marriage.

De La Soul Listening Event

Ambrosia for Heads: Is this the first time in your careers you guys feel like you have not only the creative freedom but also the legal freedom to make the album you really want to make?

Dave: There is no legal freedom. [Laughs]

Ambrosia for Heads: Mental freedom?

Dave: Executive freedom.

Maseo: Yeah, executive freedom.

Ambrosia for Heads: So beyond a creative level, are you guys feeling free? I know, Maseo, you’ve mentioned that being on a major label is a lot like mental slavery. Is there something happening this time around that feels more than just being able, creatively, to do anything you want?

Maseo: Yeah, we’re a bit more administratively involved.

Posdnuos: And responsible.

Maseo: Yeah, the responsibility. I can honestly say I can empathize with some parts of what the label deals with to release a record. Some parts. Yeah, I’ll leave it at that. [Laughs]

Dave: Yeah, I mean it’s a handful, but what’s a benefit as well is we’ve been in this industry long enough to have created relationships that we can pitch back to and who are a part of our team so that’s been a benefit to us. But it is a huge responsibility.

Posdnuos: And honestly, it’s lovely too. Even people who’ve worked at previous labels just want to see us win. They truly appreciate our music, not just appreciative of the music we made in the past that means something to them. They see that we creatively always push forward into the present.

De La Soul Listening Event

Ambrosia for Heads: Is there something specific fans have to look forward to this time around because of all of these ingredients that you’ve just mentioned?

Maseo: I think the fans can always look forward to the consistency of quality music that comes from De La Soul. I think that will always be something between us and them that’ll be a mutual understanding.

Dave: As well as a breath of fresh air. You know? This album, specifically, does not sound like anything that’s out there.

Maseo: Or anything we’ve ever done.

Dave: We know a lot of people won’t get it. But then again, I think for those people that stepped forward and supported this record…I think they’re really going to enjoy it.

All photos courtesy of Photo Rob.

Related: There May Be a Path to De La Soul’s Catalog Going Digital. One Exec Explains.