De La Soul Describe Their Million Dollar Album With Priceless Jewels
In two days (August 26), De La Soul will release its eighth album, and the Anonymous Nobody. Released through the trio’s own AOI (Art Official Intelligence) imprint, the album follows up on 2004’s The Grind Date with an assortment of features, and at least one theme. While the Long Island, New York group has partnered with Nike in the past (2009’s Are You In? mixtape), this marks their first formal album outside of the label system. Speaking at the Manhattan Sonos Store last night (August 23), Dave (f/k/a Trugoy) and Posdnuos (a/k/a Posdnous) fielded questions from moderator Miss Info, as well as journalists and fans. Ambrosia For Heads participated in the discussion, which unpacked the album’s creation, De La’s openness to other artists, and some interesting points on the Native Tongues.
While AOI is behind and the Anonymous Nobody, the album, De La Soul turned to fans in March of 2015, seeking $110,000. Miss Info asked the group about their initial move towards crowd-funding and Kickstarter, after more than 25 years of the traditional record label model.
Approaching the LP, Dave said the trio began going about things as they had since the 1980s. “It got to the point where we were getting invites to have sit-downs and meetings, and talk to labels. Some of [the invitations] we did take. After sitting down and walking out of an office [it became clear to us], ‘This isn’t it. We can’t do this again.’ So we started taking the crowd-funding thing a little more serious.” The group released six of its seven previous albums through Tommy Boy/Warner Bros. Records. The Grind Date, the only LP available on streaming platforms, came through the Matthew Knowles-led Sanctuary Urban Records.
No matter the label, the group acclaimed for its creativity said it did not want any input or corporate pressures. “It had more to do with not being supervised or feeling enslaved or feeling like we have to share our artistic values with anyone other than ourselves,” Dave explained. He did say that there was an initial apprehension with crowd funding that a nearly 30 year-old group would appear “desperate” by seeking support in advance of an album release.
The group initially placed a window on their $110,000 ask. “We thought 30 days was a good amount of time to raise some money. Then we were like, ‘Let’s go for 33 [days], and make sure we get [what we were asking for]’,” reasoned Dave. They would eventually raise over $600,000. Miss Info reports that the gross was second all time in Kickstarter history. Dave explained how crossing the six-figure mark at all was an unnatural thing for the Grammy Award-winning artists. “$110,000 is a lot of money to ask for, for us. We didn’t want to do that to begin with. It felt uncomfortable in asking. But it felt a little easier asking for people’s support, via Kickstarter. The platform just felt like it was the right thing, right place.”
Dave revealed that he, Pos’, and Maseo were all at their respective homes, watching the outpouring of support in real-time, from constantly refreshing computer screens. The group hit their goal almost immediately. “Within the first eight hours of raising $110,000 it was like, ‘Man, this is crazy.'” Dave also pointed out that the group raised an additional $200,000 in the closing 48 hours of the 33 day campaign. Beyond physical album copies, significant donors received memorabilia and experiences with the members of the group—adding to the interest.
While asking for money felt unnatural, Dave asserted that almost 18 months later, the group members have pocketed “not one penny” of fans’ money. Instead, he revealed that De La Soul’s eighth album had a budget well beyond their early beloved LPs. “We spent over a million dollars on this records. So it took a lot more than what the fans, the funders, and the Kickstarter community was giving us. This was something that we really put a lot into.” While rappers often joke about expensive sounds, Dave earnestly pointed, “I hope when people really listen to this record, they’ll hear the money in it.”
and the Anonymous Nobody includes appearances by platinum artists such as 2 Chainz, Usher, Snoop Dogg, and Jill Scott. The LP also features acts such as Roc Marciano, Little Dragon, and longtime peer, Pete Rock.
The group said it began a campaign of putting inquiries out with desired guests, spanning multiple genres. “The first person that came on board was David Byrne. We had this song [‘Snoopies’]. It felt like something [that] we felt the Talking Heads would be on, why not reach out?” Byrne, who was an integral part of the 1970s and 1980s Lower Manhattan Punk and New Wave scene, has released popular Hip-Hop sample sources such as “Once In A Lifetime,” with former band The Talking Heads.
Posdnuos stated he was unsure if Byrne was at all aware of De La Soul’s legacy. However, the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame-inducted vocalist made it clear that he listened to the MCs’ lyrics, and worked with the trio on ways to best execute the song. Dave added that after they got the commitment from the 40-year music veteran (who has won both Oscar and Grammy awards), they felt greater confidence. “Wait a minute, David Byrne said yes. The sky’s the limit.” Byrne also gave shape to one of the themes of and the Anonymous Nobody that is echoed in its personnel. “This album we made of this band of misfits, that’s normal for us. It wasn’t supposed to be just Common, Mos Def, Q-Tip, Pharoahe [Monch] on the album. It’s supposed to be all over, people who challenge us. [And] the people I named, those are our brothers; we can make records with them all day long. But the challenge is, ‘Yo, what if we did something with 2 Chainz.’ That’s the challenge.” Dave appeared to address a frequent request from the group to work closely with the collaborators of its first five albums, including Native Tongues contemporaries and disciples.
Dave also said that in addition to simply out of pocket guests, he, Posdnuos, and Maseo pushed themselves to progress past the last time fans heard a De La Soul body of work. “We always [were driven] to sound lyrically ahead. I think that lends itself to how we sound; we don’t sound like some old school [artists].” Thanks to work with the Gorillaz (see: “Feel Good Inc.”), many of De La Soul’s accolades have come in the second half of their extensive career.
Pos’ and Dave each spoke about the group’s openness to changing trends and varying styles. While 2 Chainz may appear to be a jarring collaborator to some territorial De La purists, Dave reminded historians that the group took a similar stance on tour in 1989. De La Soul notably opened for N.W.A. “A lot of the New York cats was not trying to embrace N.W.A. We was front and center, rockin’ with them. As the tour went on, everybody else jumped on [the bandwagon]. We say it to this day, those dudes, that stage show, that made us: N.W.A.” Public Enemy, LL Cool J, and Big Daddy Kane were some of the fellow acts on tour, who allegedly were not as initially open to the music of Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Dr. Dre, and DJ Yella. N.W.A.’s impact on music can be examined through 2015 biopic Straight Outta Compton.
One of the far-reaching collaborations on the album is “Lord Intended,” featuring Justin Hawkins of The Darkness. Dave revealed that the song was inspired by a famed producer with similar music theory to De La Soul. “I’ll probably say Rick Rubin [inspired ‘Lord Intended’]. [We were] trying to sit in their minds. Obviously, the song—the music itself kind of gave me that drive to create that sort of thing. But it was all…I want to say—whether [the group] spoke about it or not, it was all designed with the idea of ‘We’re gonna get this big, dramatic Rock record as if it was Axl Rose and Rick Rubin were in the room,'” said Dave. Rubin, who cut his teeth producing for LL Cool J, Run-D.M.C., and the Beastie Boys, would go on to produce Rock and Metal acts such as Slayer, Rage Against The Machine, and Metallica. “That’s who we reached out for; we reached out to Axl Rose to try and get on the record, but couldn’t track him down.’ We had just a glimpse of an opportunity. He went in and recorded some stuff, but he wasn’t happy.” The Darkness, a 2000s act, is inspired by 1970s and 1980s Rock & Roll outfits such as Guns N’ Roses. “We were just trying to figure out who could be this person. Who could be this Rock god that [fit]. Justin was just in it; he fit it perfectly.” Dave added, “Once we figured out what this record is, we just did it everything to see it through and make it feel like what we felt.”
Of “Lord Intended,” Dave notably revealed, “It was the last record on the album to be completed to be honest. It was the first [or second] record to be recorded [and] the last to be completed. We almost omitted it. Luckily, Justin came along and did his thing on it. It’s my favorite song on the album.”
Again pointing back to a classic from the archives, De La Soul stressed the value of true collaboration. Praising the work of David Byrne or Justin Hawkins, these are just contemporary examples of lessons learned from 3 Feet High and Rising days. “A song like ‘Buddy,’ it only happened ’cause [The Jungle Brothers were] there that day,” noted Dave. “It could’ve [become a whole other song if recorded on a whole other day].”
In the discussion the group updated fans on the status surrounding their Warner Bros.-controlled albums (1989’s 3 Feet High and Rising through 2001’s AOI: Bionix) not being available online. “I’m hoping that in the near future we’ll turn things out. […] We’ve been fighting this for the last 10, 15 years. This is not new for us. […] You almost feel like you’re being erased from history—and future’s history,” expressed Dave. In his eyes, it’s as simple as greed. “The problem is who’s getting paid for it, how much they’re willing to share, and if it matters to them.” However, one bright spot came when Miss Info pointed out that after the overwhelming crowd-funding response of and the Anonymous Nobody, a true petition could grease the proverbial Warner wheels.
In closing, Info pointed to last week’s news surrounding a sixth A Tribe Called Quest album soon to release. With that surprising news, does the group believe that a Native Tongues album could ever actually happen?
“Anything’s possible. If it feels right, it just feels right,” said Pos’. The MC added that before Phife Dawg’s March death, he was trying to recruit him to appear on a song along with Phonte. Dave shared a more defined view. “I don’t know. We don’t know. That could happen, and possibly won’t ever happen. I have to say [that] what’s good about Native Tongues is that we are still what it was: friends. We’re cookin’ up with Chi-Ali tomorrow; we’re doin’ something on a documentary that he’s working on. Pos’ was just hangin’ out with [Q-Tip] and Jarobi just around Phife’s funeral. We’re friends, which is what’s most important.”
In the mid-1990s, the Tongues collective would apparently loosen, with conflicts addressed on “I Am I Be.” By the later ’90s, A Tribe Called Quest and Black Sheep had disbanded, while Chi Ali was incarcerated, and Monie Love had stepped away from rapping.
“We know the fans would love to see us do something. But for me personally, it’s difficult to do it without Phife Dawg,” admitted Dave. “[A project] should’ve happened a long time ago. At this point in time, if it’s something that sounds amazing and is really creative, then, okay, we’ll do it. But I personally feel like we missed that boat a long time ago, and I don’t feel like goin’ on a cruise without my buddy.”
and the Anonymous Nobody releases this Friday.