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De La Soul Talk Crowdfunding Their Latest Release

23 February 17 interview: Jared Wilson

Since releasing their debut 3 Feet High And Rising in 1989, De La Soul have been hip hop pioneers. Eight albums and almost three decades later, they decided to forsake record labels and crowdfunded their latest release, and the Anonymous Nobody…, instead. We chatted to founder member Posdnuos about Kickstarter, guest vocalists and their upcoming Rock City gig…

illustration: Emily Catherine

You funded the latest album through Kickstarter. Why was that preferable to working with a label?
We were blessed to have different labels showing interest in us. But as a lot of the music was coming together, we felt that a label might be less interested in publishing the music without their critique being heard; “This song sounds amazing, but it needs a chorus,” or “This song is so great, let’s see if we can get Adele,” etc. We didn’t want to have that type of interference, which we’ve seen and know exists from a label.

Were you ever nervous you wouldn’t make your target?
Definitely. We’ve been blessed to tour and travel around the world regularly since 1988, so we do get to see our fans and hear what they have to say. We had a lot of confidence in them, but at the same time we were worried that a lot wouldn’t even know the Kickstarter was out. That’s what happened too, as even though we smashed our target we regularly hear from people in the UK, Australia, Asia and even from back home who didn’t even know it was happening.

Your original target was $110,000, but you beat that in a day and raised over $600,000. How did that feel?
There were definitely butterflies in our stomachs. We felt like we’d be able to make the goal, but we had no idea it would be reached in the first nine hours. We then had a whole month to go and it was a real blessing.

Did the extra funds give you more studio time, then?
Well, it’s worth stating that no one in De La Soul ever thought we could get the whole album made for $110k. That was just the amount we felt comfortable asking our fans for. At that point we’d already put around $200k of our own money into it and we knew that the type of album we wanted to make, with the type of guests we wanted, was going to cost a lot more than that to create. When all the extra money came into play we could make choices, like using an amazing studio, as opposed to doing it all inside a hotel room. To get the live band in and get the full richness we used Electro Vox studios in LA, where people like Nat King Cole and others have recorded.

How hands-on was the project for you guys?
It was a lot of work. We had a small team of people who were on the phone for hours every day, thinking and talking about different ways we could reach out to our fans. We paid attention to previous campaigns by people like TLC, among others, and really took the time to think about how we could execute ours in the best possible way. I think a lot of people were inspired by what we did, thinking “Wow, if De La can do it, we can do it,” but those that are successful are the ones that put a lot of thought into it for their own fans.

Let’s talk about the album itself. There are some amazing guests on it. Can you pick a few favourites out for me?
Working with David Byrne of Talking Heads was absolutely amazing. We are fans of any and every thing this man has done, both with Talking Heads and on his own. We presented the idea to him and he said yes. From there we weren’t physically in the studio with him, but I went back and forth with him on email and he was really cool. He sent me sketches of him humming the melody, even before the words had been written, and he got an insight into what I wanted to do.

What about Snoop Dogg?
Working with him made sense because we’ve come in contact with each other for years and years. He’d mentioned about a year before that we were one of the few hip hop groups who’d come before him that he liked and he still hadn’t worked with. We sent him the track and once he’d heard it then he told us he loved it and wanted to be a part of it.

There are a few Brits on there too, like Estelle...
We’ve known her for a long time and we’ve watched her grow. She was happy to see us making a new album and she told me that she’d just received a bunch of things to work on from Pete Rock. She’d written all these verses to it, but she said it might work better for us if we removed her verses and just kept the chorus. We thought it was a great track and it was originally going to be part of a side project we’re working on with Pete and DJ Premier. But then when the rest of the group heard it, we wanted to make it work for this. So we replayed it and we added strings and then incorporated ourselves throughout it.

Also Justin Hawkins from The Darkness. That’s an unlikely combination...
That was one of the first tracks that we wrote for the album. I recorded the first vocals for it myself, knowing I wanted someone else to re-record them. We spent a month asking if Axl Rose would do it, but never got a reply. We then asked Lenny Kravitz, but he was just about to go on tour and so it was thanks, but no thanks. Finally we chatted to the distribution company, Cobalt, and asked if they had any recommendations. They suggested him and we heard back that he was a De La fan.

Damon Albarn is on there too. Was it fun to work with him on your project rather than as Gorillaz?
Once that bond between us and Gorillaz happened with Damon, we just became close and like family. Having Damon as a guest on our album was a total no-brainer. There’s probably enough music from the jam sessions we did with him to release a full album in its own right.

Personally I feel that all the way from 3 Feet High and Rising to now, we’ve always been up for the challenge of trying out different things. We like coming into someone else’s world and doing what we do. We add to what they’re doing and we learn new things about ourselves too. We’ve done this from the beginning.

What does a De La Soul gig look like in 2017?
I don’t want to give too much away, but as ever you can expect us giving our all and making sure the crowd are having an amazing time. We’ll put together a great balance of the new album, along with older material. All of this will be presented in a fresh way, so it’s not like if you’ve heard the album you’ll know exactly how these songs will sound live. You’ll have to come and check them out.

Any final thoughts about Nottingham?
Everybody grows up knowing about Nottingham because of Robin Hood, so I’ve always put those two together. But outside of that, for what I do I’ve been blessed to see what a great hip hop scene you have there. That’s history in the making too. We look forward to coming back.

De La Soul, Rock City, Saturday 25 February 2017.

De La Soul website

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