De La Soul 20th anniversary: Posdnuos gives the inside story on 3 Feet High and Rising
Wed Aug 5 2009
The current issue of TONY features an interview with Posdnuos, one third of hip-hop's big innovators De La Soul. The band's current tour, 20 Years High and Rising, celebrates the 20th anniversary of De La Soul's hugely influential 3 Feet High And Rising album. You can read the article here. And after the jump, check out a full Q&A with Posdnuos, including:
The inside story on 3 Feet
"I jokingly said, 'Oh we should moan and act like we're having sex,' and I laughed, ha-ha—and Prince Paul would be like, 'That's it! Yeah! Do that, do that!'"
Pos's early inspirations
"Certain songs that made you think, What is this and why was it made? And it's so incredible? I mean, like, to hear someone feel that way about something we did? "
De La Soul's '80s style
"Myself and Dave would wear our fathers' pants and take them up, or we would go into Macy's and buy golf pants and then make them straight leg."
Their comedy heroes
"I mean, please, Richard Pryor. I mean, amazing"
The band's future plans
"So we're like, 'Okay, we've stayed away for a long time but now we're gonna give you about 12 albums!'"
Time Out New York: You were 19 years old when you made 3 Feet High—and seemed so unself-conscious about the sorts of things teenage boys are normally self conscious about. Rapping about talking fish in "Tread Water," for example...
Posdnuos: Well, I think we were independent, but also with us being around each other, like minds help just put more confidence in what you're doing, and you don't feel like you need to sway away from it. And being in high school even right before, while we were even working on a lot of material, you know, we hung around a lot of really cool people, we weren't, like, nerds or anything, but we just had our own way of thinking about things and dressing. And like I said, people around you sort of gravitate toward you because you find yourself thinking the same, trying the same things. So I mean we all love what Run-D.M.C. did or was still doing, or Rakim or all the rappers at the time. Even Public Enemy, for that matter. But we just knew that we just naturally had to come up with what we wanted to. We weren't gonna copy or bite what someone else was doing.
You have a new book out on the making of 3 Feet High, and it has an early press photo in which you're all wearing shell suits.
Yeah, we have these Sergio Tacchini suits on.
And you look so uncomfortable in them—were you cajoled into putting them on?
Well, no, I mean, honestly it was something we didn't mind wearing because we could dress like that, but then we could also push the limits. So that was just one picture. We actually wore those suits and stuff like that, but then as well, myself and Dave would pick our fathers' pants, like pants that he didn't wear no more, and take them up, or we would go into Macy's and buy golf pants and then make them straight leg and wear different shoes with them.
So you know, like, you know, I loved the Adidas shelltoes that Run made famous, but I would go out my way to wear the Stan Smiths that everyone else didn't wear. So it was part of what we were doing, Tommy Boy didn't make us do it, we wanted to do it. And also, that was the first press photo that we had for the first singles. But when we got to the 3 Feet album, which was right after the second single, we just kept pushing. If you look back at old pictures of Andre 3000 from OutKast, it's kind of the same thing—mentally and where he was soulwise was different, but he may have dressed, you know, that was something normal to see him dressed like everyone else, so it was the same thing.
Mace interviews George Clinton in the book, and talks about his first gig being Parliament at MSG when he was six years old. What were the things that first made you gasp?
Yeah I mean, being that young, sitting round with my pops and listening to him playing Motown records. I was very aware of Jackson and Diana Ross and the Philly movement when there was MFSB and the O'Jays. So there was all good music, but then you know when you hear certain things like I said, that particular album, Songs in the Key of Life, when I listened to that from beginning to end, and I was like, Wow, it's just such a vivid picture he painted. But then you can skip forward to a Sly and the Family Stone record that was one of my father's records and it was just so incredible.
And moving from the Bronx then to move to Long Island and to see how the early stages of rap was coming along, or hip-hop, and you know—it was just so many different things that can just change the way you look at things, from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Message," to, you know, you skip up into something like Run-D.M.C.'s first album to even their Raising Hell album. There are just so many things for us that reconfirmed you know, Wow, you can do things differently. Because I mean even how they took the more rock approach but it was still soulful and still moving. Or even the first time I heard Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa's Soulsonic Force, just certain songs that was just like, What is this and why was it made? And it's so incredible. I mean, like, to hear someone feel that way about something we did?
I mean, I'm a critic of our music, so even when I listen to De La Soul's music, I hear rhymes I could've said better, I hear a beat that could've been turned up louder, I hear it differently, you know what I'm saying?
Who are your comedy heroes?
Comedy heroes? Yeah, I mean, please, Richard Pryor. I mean, amazing. Even being so young and having to sneak and listen to my father and mothers' albums, this silly, backwards, [Laughs] foulmouthed comedian, you know. And Richard Pryor was just like, the king—just to hear what he was saying was so amazing. Because it was more than slapstick, it was more than just ranking, there was a lot of intelligence behind what he was saying. George Carlin was amazing to me. I think he died several years ago, very political but very, very funny. And you can go right back up to someone like Eddie Murphy. Amazing the way he painted pictures and said things that were so funny. That definitely played a part in how we did things—with our skits and having fun.
How much of 3 Feet High was improvised? With a track like "Take It Off," it sounds like you're making it up as you go along.
Oh, definitely. Like, Prince Paul had put the beat together, and we just stood in the booth like, "What are we gonna do?" And the beat reminded us of a song by these two Philly rappers called Krown Rulers, they had a song called "Kick the Ball." And you know, so it was the same thing, "Kick the ball!" So we was like, Yo, that beat reminded us of that song, so why don't we do something like, "Take it off!" and we'll be talking about certain stuff that we gotta take off, and we just took two minutes to write down different items—and we start doing it.
It's not inspired by talking bit in "The Stripper" by David Rose, with the line, "Take it all off..."?
Oh no, no, no.
Unless it snuck into your brain at some point when you were a little kid.
[Laughs] No, he-he, no, that's funny but no we didn't get it from there.
And on "De La Orgee," did you brief the girls on what you wanted, or did you say, "Go for it"?
No, once again, it was something that was just a joke—that was another beat we were just playing, and we said, "What we gonna do with this particular beat?" Umm, and then I jokingly said, "Oh we should just moan and act like we're having sex over it," and I laughed, ha-ha—and Prince Paul was always classic for that, he would be like, "That's it! Yeah! Do that, do that! And we'd say, "Are you serious?" Yeah! So we started doin' it, and it just happened that friends of ours were in there at the time, and our dancers was around, and so we told them to come in the booth.
How much is Paul involved in the new tour?
We have our cooking-show sketch, treating the songs like a complete dish, putting in the different ingredients to make the stew. So we're having a lot of fun doing that. And we've always kept close ties with Paul even though he doesn't necessarily produce for us.
Tell us about the brass section.
They're a band called the Rhythm Roots Allstars. They're comprised of different musicians that have played separately for other artists, Ben Harper, Nicky Costa or Macy Gray...and they're known as another collective called Breakastra, which is known for playing old soul breaks. We met them through a tour we did with the car company Scion—and saw we had a great chemistry together. We would never normally have used a band, but in using them and we realized how much fun it was, the chemistry on what we wanted and what they wanted came together great --and we wanted to present something a little different.
Which artists do you see now who remind you of the approach you had when you were 19?
Mm. Well—I can't honestly say anyone reminds me right now. I mean, there were different people that I felt like their approach and their spontaneity. The last people that I would've been like, yo they really tried to reach the way I felt De La tried to reach when they first came out, but in their own way, was OutKast. But then you have people like Common who are part of our family, and Kweli and Mos Def who are about saying what they believe in, but they try to say it in a different way than the normal way. Last year there was a resurgence of a lot of the '80s-style stuff with the Cool Kids, or Kidz in the Hall, and I definitely thought they were cool and we toured with a couple of those bands. And Charles Hamilton stands away from what is the norm. Even you can go back three years before him to Lupe Fiasco, he just stood away from what was the norm of what was goin' on. I don't equate it to exactly what De La is, but yeah, it is in the spirit of it. Like, you can have Jadakiss or the LOX or you can have Ludacris. And you have Lil Wayne, he should always be there.
You're working on AOI 3 now, right?
Well, we've been working on it for years [Laughs], right? It's been an album that we had just put to the side for a while because when we originally left Tommy Boy and Elektra at one point, Sylvia Rhone wanted to sign us. So we felt like we couldn't give—whoever wanted to sign us at that point, we felt like we couldn't give them a instrumental album. We had to give them a completely vocal album. So when we wound up being on Sanctuary, we gave them the Grind Date album. And so the DJ album was just placed to the side. But we really want to put it out now, more than ever. And we're lookin' at really tryin' to put out a lot of different albums. From our own album, called You're Welcome, that we had put to the side to finish the Nike project, and we're finishing that now. And the AOI album, we're looking at doing an entirely skit album with ourselves and Prince Paul. And Prince Paul and Dave, they were working on a project together called Modest Millionaires. I'm working on a solo project and I also have another project called Tuxedo Arm, so there's a lot [Laughs]. We're just trying to, like, flood you with stuff, 'cause last year a lot of people were like, "De La, we love y'all, but you've stayed away for so long." So we're like, "Okay, we've stayed away for a long time but now we're gonna give you about 12 albums." He-he.