“George Clinton once told me, ‘you and Snoop need to stop smoking that damn weed, that sh*t is going to fry your mind,’” Vincent “Maseo” Mason says with a laugh. As one third of the classic hip-hop group De La Soul, Mason has made a career out of having a sense of humor. Along with fellow members Kelvin “Posdnous” Mercer and Dave “Trugoy the Dove” Jolicoeur, and famed producer Prince Paul, De La Soul helped usher in a new era of hip-hop with its groundbreaking album, 3 Feet High and Rising. Ignoring the rules laid down by their contemporaries, De La Soul made a record packed with tricky word play, endless humor and more samples than anything done before. From Beastie Boys to Hall & Oates, they were all over the map.
“At the time, there really wasn’t another album that did that outside of The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique,” Mercer says. “Funny enough, when we were working on 3 Feet High and Rising, it came to light years later, that that’s where they were trying to go with Paul’s Boutique, but we had done it first. We really included a smorgasbord of genres of music. From hip-hop icons like Run D.M.C. to a Sly and the Family Stone loop to Eddie Murphy saying something from one of his comedy routines. We were all fans of Hall and Oates. It was one my dreams to work with one of their records. I really wanted to use ‘I Can’t Go For That.’ I always had that in my mind.”
Prince Paul and De La Soul found a way to sample “I Can’t Go For That” for the song “Say No Go” in 1989, which appeared on 3 Feet High and Rising. Surprises were the norm for the Long Island-trio. Their career never went the way people “expected” it to go. They were lucky their label, Tommy Boy, was just eager to see what De La came up with next. They allowed a lot of creative freedom to make their sophomore album, 1991’s De La Soul is Dead. While promoting 3 Feet High and Rising, the group was slapped with the label, “hippie hip-hop,” something all three of them abhorred. The title, De La Soul is Dead, was meant to put an end to that.
“At this time, we were looking at a budding career. Everything that was going on with 3 Feet that was negative was very inspirational to De La Soul is Dead. We knew early on with the likes of Paul and other people in the biz, we were privileged to hear a lot of conversations about how record labels manipulate artists for their own benefit. Like we hated the album cover. We were young and felt like we had to listen. Then we would take the advice because you didn’t want to rock the boat. Your gut would say, ‘I don’t like this sh*t, but maybe I need to go with it.’ When you start feeling the negative response from it, that’s when you kicked yourself harder. The blessing in disguise was, all the negative stuff we were going through was inspiration for the next album. We killed off the hippie idea before anybody else could.”
De La Soul put out several more albums, most notably 1993’s Buhloone Mindstate and 1994’s The Stakes Is High. The trio still tours the world and has influenced countless artists; ranging from DJ Shadow and Z Trip to Camp Lo and Digable Planets.
“I heard both 3 Feet High and Rising and Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. in the same setting, which was in yearbook class in high school,” DJ Shadow says. “The extreme creativity and really innovative use of not only the soul samples, but they used stuff from all over the place. It wasn’t in the normal realm of what people usually did. That was hugely inspirational to me.”
De La Soul joins classic hip-hop icons Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Ice Cube for The King of the Mic, a substantial 25-date North American tour in support of his new album, Authentic. DJ/producer Z Trip is also on deck to round out the bill. For those haters out there who think, “oh they’re too old,” let’s see if Lil’ Wayne or T-Pain are around in 25 years. The odds aren’t in their favor.
“I truly attribute the longevity to our commitment as friends regardless of the disagreements at times, as well as our common goal to be a group in the tradition of hip hop based what we've learned from the beginning when we were just fans of the culture,” Mason says. “The reinvention of each album became a purpose due to the fact that we've learned how a label can taint the image of your music and message for sales. So, the reinventing became a significant part of the longevity, as well, along with being induced by the natural current events going on in our lives.”
The King of the Mic Tour, May 31, at Harrah’s Stir Cove, Council Bluff’s, 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $42. Visit www.harrahscouncilbluffs.com for more information.