Cracker by Damian Christie

Hey, how ya doin'?

A few weeks back I did an interview with Dave Jolicouer (Trugoy) of legendary hip-hop group De La Soul. A heavily truncated version of the interview is in the latest issue of Remix magazine, and a slightly edited interview will be heard on bFM sometime on Tuesday breakfast, but for those interested, I thought I'd let you have the fullllll interview (especially since I spent hours transcribing the damn thing!)

Apologies if some of it doesn't read too straight, but it's a pretty much verbatim transcript. There's some good stuff in there about Dave's views on "controversial" new stars like Eminem & 50 cent. Worth a look...

It’s been over fifteen years since De La Soul first formed, you still feelin' it?

I love it! I wouldn't change what I do for anything, I love creating music, I love the group of guys that I'm part of, you know, being able to perform for people who appreciate what we do, for the culture that it's great to know that I'm a part of it, we do great things, we do positive things, it's not always depicted in the best of lights but at the same time there is a side that is great for the kids, great for the listening audience, you can't beat it. We travel, we have fun: I couldn't see myself doing anything but music.

De La Soul's first album, Three Feet High & Rising, marked a radical departure from all that had come before, how do you feel it influenced the evolution of hip-hop?

I feel that we definitely, we're a part of hip-hop that made it continue, made it take a turning point to experiment and go further and dig deeper and become more creative. We got into this game for the same reason why artists get into this game now, you got a chance, you grew up on people who you loved and you felt like 'damn, I could do something more than this, let me try something different', and it's good to see that everyone's just passing the baton and just making this race go long as possible. It's like you never wanna win, you never wanna end because keeping it running IS winning the race.

There's an ongoing argument about hip-hop and its influence on kids, whereas De La Soul are known for their positive message – where do you stand in the debate?

I hear rappers say that all the time, 'hip hop never made anyone kill someone' or 'hip-hop never made someone act out of character', but I think that's untrue. I think the more negative it is, the more you find kids who look up to these artists and even aspire to be like them: 'and if I can't be a rapper I'd rather be a thug, if I can't be like so-and-so rapper but he's talking about guns and drugs then I'm going to act like so-and-so rapper and hustle drugs and carry guns'…

I think there are artists who definitely model these people, at the same time you have people who are my age, you know, people who are older, who know better, who will appreciate 50cent just for the music, who will say 'okay, this is entertainment, this is just good music', but there is a listening audience who can't separate the two.

Do you have any children of your own?

I do, I have a daughter, she's 14.

Would you have let her listen to the likes of Eminem and 50 cent when she was 10?

I don't think I would; I think it's too graphic, I think there's too much profanity and I think just to try to make sense of it and really try to separate it from entertainment and reality would be difficult for a 10 year old – I think it'd be difficult enough for a 14-15 year old! You know, and I don't think that that's cool, I don't think that you buy your child a 50 cent album, because it's not for him or her, and at the same time – I'll be honest – I don't think a Christina Aguilera is for a 10 year old either, someone who can talk about love, sex and then show her body off in every video she has, I don't think that's for a 10 year old either.

You're sounding like a father there…

Well you know, it's a responsibility that I'm hoping that every father whether young or old takes, with these younger minds it isn't just music, it's an impression.

When De La started out there was a lot of gansta hiphop, then it kind of went in the background, now it's back again, the dominant style seems to change all the time…

It absolutely changes, I think you know, you had Public Enemy back then, and nowadays you got somebody like a Talib Kweli, who isn't maybe that radical but obviously he definitely touches on political issues and social issues, and hip-hop will continue to have its newest styles and its different voices as long as it keeps going.

What happens is that with hip-hop when something becomes bored and you want something refreshing, there's somebody, there's a group, there's a guy, there's a girl who is in their basement, who is tired of what they're hearing and develops a new style and gets recognised, so as long as hip-hop goes and starts hitting its stale moment, someone is formulating something new.

De La Soul was one of the first groups to have to face legal issue of sampling, with a big case based on a sample of the Turtles. What was it like to be involved in something that big at that early stage of your career?

We were brand new to the game, we didn't understand what sampling clearance was: I had to pay for something? I saw it as, you know, I love that record and I want to use it, but when you sit down and think of it, business-wise, it's like, okay, I am using someone's hard-earned art to make mine, a new art, and if I'm going to put that out commercially, and make money off of it, rightfully they should get something from it. It makes sense, but when you don’t know, you don't know, and at that point in time we were fresh into sampling, we sampled heavily, and we caught some repercussions like some lawsuits, and we dealt with it, we settled with them, and we'll still sample to this day, we'll just definitely follow the order of operations and make sure our samples are clear.

Have people sampled De La Soul illegally over the years?

Absolutely not, I think the laws are so great that people wouldn't even dare to sample De La or anyone else without permission, and I know that we've been approached for the permission on several occasions.

I read an interview with Posdynous (the other MC in DLS) saying he likes using big words in his rap, regardless of their meaning. This seems to happen a bit over here too, people using words like "metaphorical, metaphysical, prolifically" without possibly knowing what they're talking about. Have you ever done this and been snapped?

Using a word, or even talking about something that I don't know would never come from me. I think that that would probably be a great set up to get caught out, I wouldn't set myself up like that.

Can you sing?

I can hit some notes here and there, I like singing choruses but I'm far from a singer.

Do you think that the art of singing been marginalised through hip-hop? Most of the decent singers these days seem consigned to releasing treacle pop hits…

I don't think so, I think hip-hop definitely has a spotlight on it and it’s the biggest thing out right now but I think there are a lot of artists out there who sing, I mean it’s not the same, you don't often hear a beautiful songstress like Anita Baker or somebody who can hold a note from high or low like a Luther Vandross, I think those artists are maybe, unfortunately, and I hate to say this, but dinosaurs of a dying age. I think the singing thing is here, it’s just now days singing is intertwined with hip-hop, but you don’t have too many artists out there that are the next Luther’s and Anita Bakers, but those that are around are just coupled up with a Fabulous or a Jayzee.

It seems that for a while every bloody answer machine you'd call up would have your sample "Hey how ya doin'…"

I’ve had a couple of people that I’ve called who are friends of mine, and they had it on their answering machine, I’m like ‘get that off your answering machine!’ I mean, it was a great promotional idea, we actually sat in the studio two days when that album was out and we did answering machine services for like maybe 2,000 people in the industry and sent them out to all of them.

You've got a Best Of out through Warner Bros at the moment, was that your idea?

We've actually got a new record we want to drop this year, and many more as long as our listening audience permits us, but [Warner Bros] did come to us and they asked if we wanted to put some new songs on there, be a part of the sequencing, or even be a part of the artwork and everything, but we wasn’t with it. Bbut you know, at the end of the day they will do what they do because they have the rights and they are putting out the greatest hits. I hope people will enjoy it, but it wouldn’t be something that De La Soul would do right now. It sounds like a great idea but I don’t think it’s the time for it right now.

Your last album Bionix didn’t go down so well.

I think the real reason why Bionix didn’t do well at all – I think it was a great record – I think the only reason why it didn’t go down is because there was no financial backing or support. A lot of people don’t even know that record was out, and touring within the last two years people didn’t even know we had a new album out. [De La Soul's previous record label] Tommy Boy at the time was folding, we put out the album in November but the label folded in January, so as opposed to spending all this money on a record when the company was about to go under – and on top of that Warner Bros was about to take all the publishing from all the albums and the album coming out – they wouldn’t have no ownership of anything, so why spend more money on a record that wasn’t going to do anything for the company.

Your new album coming out later in the year will the third in the Art Official Intelligence series?

It’s the third of the AOI series but fortunately, thank God, we have the right to do anything on our own from this point on and we’ll be releasing that record on our own.

So no Warners.

No Warners.

Does this mean you’re starting up your own label?

We are starting our own label.

What’s it called?

At this point in time, it’s funny you should say that, Pos called me today and he was like ‘yo, we starting this label, but ah, what are we calling it’? I was like, ‘that’ll come in time, like everything else, any titles usually come when we’re about to release or launch, so I’ll wait for that title to come in coming time.

Are you guys still pretty tight with Tribe, and Jungle Brothers and all the older hip-hop crew?

Yeah, Absolutely, I was on the phone with Phife a couple of days ago, I just hung out with Mr Long of Black Sheep, had a long conversation with Q-tip about the reunion of Tribe Called Quest about a month ago. We all talk, we’re all friends, we’re all definitely keeping in touch with each other.

You still living in New York?

I am in New York.

You’re coming down here in June, to NZ, been down here before?

I have been to NZ but that was a long time ago.

Going to spend any time down here or are you on a mad schedule?

I think we’re going to be in and out of NZ and not have the opportunity to see anything.

That’s a shame…

Unfortuantely… it is a shame because I think even the last time we was there I believe we might have been there for like two, three days, and we didn’t get the opportunity to see much then either, but I’m hoping with the release of this record and things turning again and good things happening with De La, we will be back there in full, being able to really hang out and really see what, see especially what the hip hop scene is like out there, that’s what I would like to see.

You're doing a live show. What can we expect these days – how does it work?

A live show is fun you know, there are no lights, whistles and explosions, it’s nothing like that with De La, we are hip hop students and we only do what we’ve learned, and I think when we get on the stage just the three of us, it’s like magic, you can’t, I don’t think there are too many groups that have it like that, we don’t need to do all of our hits per se, I mean you have to do 'Me Myself I', you have to do 'Say No Go', we have to do these songs, we go out there and we make people have a good time, it’s a show that involves the audience, you know, we don’t like to do a show where people are just watching, seeing what’s next, we have you as part of the show, it’s people being a part of the show, and that only, that only gives us the energy and the vibe and the feeling to really give a great show, so it’s going to be a show where we’re just intertwined with the audience and having a good time.

De La Soul play this Tuesday night at the St James in Auckland