De La Soul's Posdnous Explains Why The Group's Catalog is Still in Digital Purgatory

De La Soul
De La Soul
Courtesy of De La Soul

New York hip-hop legends De La Soul (Dave, Posdnous, and Maseo) have done something a lot of couples, let alone musical groups, can manage.

They’ve spent almost three decades working together, and their personal and creative bonds just keep getting stronger. No tabloid drama or separate tour buses for this trio, who formed while they were still in high school on Long Island. The group's members — Posdnous, Dave, and Maseo — have kept a positive attitude throughout, tackling the kind of things that comes along for the ride when you’re deep in the music industry. 

In their history, they only had one spacious chunk of time (2004 to 2012) without a De La Soul release, but they were still creating music together during that period. The group’s newest recording, and the Anonymous Nobody dropped in August, after a very successful Kickstarter campaign that brought in more than $600,000. They also did something new with this one by working with a full band, the Rhythm Roots Allstars. Keeping with De La tradition, they also brought in some interesting and diverse collaborators in the way of David Byrne, Usher, and Snoop Dogg.

De La Soul hits the Valley as part of the Friday lineup of the W Scottdale hotel’s Wake Up Call Music Festival we recently told you about. They are part of Friday night’s lineup and plan to work their way through a set list that mixes up old favorites with new material.

We caught up with Posdnous for a lengthy chat about what’s good, a few hurdles, and what the next decade looks like for De La Soul.

New Times: Pos, De La is about to hit the 30-year mark!
Posdnous: Yeah, we are definitely getting close. I think we have a year or so to go.

How does that feel?
Good. Really good. I was around 18 when we got signed. Graduated high school in 1987 and in 1988 we had our first song out. We have all changed as people, and the things in our lives have changed, having families, things like that. We’ve evolved as men and we’ve learned how to be more accountable for the things we do and say. We’ve gotten that wisdom and knowledge that comes with age. Thankfully, over the years, as a group we have always been able to check our egos with one another. We came into this as a group, as brothers, and all that we have learned, we learned together.

If only everyone could work together that way, right?
That love and never forgetting to be appreciative of being able to make money doing what we love to do is an important part of who we are. Not everyone has that fortune. We all have family and friends who work hard every single day at jobs they may not love. It could be easy to focus on the negative aspects of the music business, because like most things, there are some down sides. You’ve got a lot of egos to deal with, record companies that don’t have your back and who can always overlook you and move onto the next group. It’s always challenging.

Yeah, you’ve been in it long enough to see plenty of changes. Speaking of the down sides, I read the New York Times piece this past summer about how your digital catalog has been tied up for some time. What’s happening with that?
It isn’t even close to being resolved. Basically, anything we put out on Tommy Boy is owned by Warner Brothers, and none of that is available digitally.

Mostly because of sample usage?
That has a lot to do with it. Warner Brothers, who distributed Tommy Boy’s music, got control of the masters and they thought it would be a walking time bomb with the samples. They didn’t want to put themselves in any jeopardy. We tried our best to speak with them and offered to go through everything with a fine toothed comb. They’re business people though, and the thought is why put all their resources into figuring this out when they have tons of other artists they can focus on. As an entity, we are of no relevance to them.

You’d think they’d see how the digital tracks might aid in bolstering De La Soul’s popularity
Yeah. So, take a song like “Me, Myself and I.” It has a sample from George Clinton, which was cleared. The majority of songs on those early records could have 8 to 9 samples per song, so an album could have 100+ samples … so I do get it. There’s a lot of information involved. On our end, we can say this or that has been cleared, but Tommy Boy might disagree. We had lawyers at that time who would give us updates, as well as inform our management of that time, and Tommy Boy. We still have that information that shows what was cleared, so hopefully we’ll figure it out. Our new album, and the Anonymous Nobody, debuted at number 12 on the Billboard 200 when it came out. Hopefully the interest in it will show Warner Brothers that we are of relevance.

That’s pretty rough and complicated
Yeah, I do my best to understand it. Being from a group whose music uses a lot of samples, I can totally understand someone having a composition they hold dear to themselves and then all of a sudden there’s multiple people profiting from it. It’s something that everyone looks at differently. Not everyone is George Clinton who liked what we were doing and wanted to work something out with us. So, I try not to demonize anyone. To us, we recognize sampling at an art form. It’s what we do, it’s what Tribe Called Quest does, Public Enemy, Dr. Dre, and others. We’ve all made great music involving some songs that weren’t even necessarily big when they were released. I do believe people we get things from need to be taken care of. When we released 3 Feet High and Rising, the label loved it, but it was a litmus test in some ways. They didn’t have anything that showed them that this album was gonna go through the roof. They thought it would be contained to New York and they could focus on other Tommy Boy groups. Lo and behold, it blew out of New York to everywhere. Next thing you know, the Turtles came after us, and some other things like that.

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Including a very successful Kickstarter campaign, you did a lot of new things with And the Anonymous Nobody. How did that all take shape?
We met the Rhythm Roots Allstars when we were doing an event for Scion. They were the band for all the acts on that tour. We had a great time and started working with them outside of that Scion tour. That was the first time we’d done anything like that – playing with a full band — and we really liked it. Dave and I had just done the First Serve project with some French musicians, and shortly after, the Rhythm Roots Allstars said they’d like to do a project with us.

So you were on board?
We were. De La Soul had already been working on a new album called You’re Welcome which is what I’d call a conventional De La album. When we started playing with the Rhythm Roots Allstars, the stuff was coming out so amazing, we decided to put that to the side for a bit. We started focusing on what became And the Anonymous Nobody.

Seems like it was a pretty great decision
Yeah, I’m so glad we did it. I always say that it’s never too late to become a student. You learn, you find people often looking at you as a teacher, but it’s never too late for each of us to learn anything in this world. We always looked at the band thing like that’s their thing (the Rhythm Roots Allstars), but working with them in the studio gave us this amazing freedom.

How so?
It was like 3 Feet High all over again 'cause it was territory that we’d never been in before and that was fun. To know that we could make music right there in a jam session and turn around and feel this magic. Even at five minutes in, we could mark that area, loop it up, and start overdubbing. Then, we’d listen to stuff a month later with fresh ears and treat it like we were sampling from records we just bought from a store. That’s what I like about the album, it doesn’t sound like a straight-through band album with the same snare sound in every song, or a trumpet is in every song. Every song sounds different than the others. We sampled from our own jam session where there may have been a harmonica, or a banjo one time, or another time when there were some jazzy sounds happening. There’s so many nuances.

So now that you’ve finished that, will you go back to You’re Welcome?
I think that could come out. We have tons of stuff from throughout the years that just collects. What we really wanna do is promote this new album. We are looking to put together a show where we can play this new album from beginning to end and have the different features on the album included. It’s something we got to learn from our friends the Gorillaz, and the way they play an entire album live. We’re blessed to always have shows, and at these new shows, we are performing some of the songs but along with stuff from our entire history. At the top of the year we want to start doing shows where we play and the Anonymous Nobody from beginning to end. We have a lot of music ready to release; we don’t have to worry that we’ll have a big 10-year period in between releases. I think we all don’t want that to happen.

Any other interesting projects?
We are looking at putting together an all-skit album. We’d mentioned a year ago a project we were working on with Pete Rock and DJ Premier, and we still want to get that out.

Do you mind doing those packaged, old school tours or do you feel like they keep bands trapped in the past?
Honestly, we try to stay away from doing a lot of them. About a year and a half ago, we did the Kings of the Mic tour. It was us, LL Cool J, Ice Cube, and Public Enemy. All of us, though, in that situation, are still creating new music and playing it at those shows. We always like to be showcasing new things. There’s nothing at all wrong with the '80s and '90s shows. For a lot of our peers, they’re grown up and and can bring their kids and even grandkids, and get to share music from their own histories. We like that aspect of playing festivals – we often see multiple generations and that gives us a chance to touch new audiences.

and the Anonymous Nobody, much like other De La Soul releases features a lot of guests and collaborators. Who would you still like to work with?
There’s too many names. While making this album, we had so many we still wanted to include, John Legend, Willie Nelson, Axl Rose, Lenny Kravitz, Sade. I could go on for days. As music listeners, we have been inspired by so many different people making so many different kinds of music. We always want to challenge ourselves. We love to do people wouldn’t expect, like when collaborated with 2 Chainz. That seemed to surprise people but then once they heard it, they could appreciate how we could marry a correct beat between him and us. He’s doing something lyrically that people may not have expected from him, but we knew he could do it because we know how creative he is. He knows hip-hop. That’s what I truly love — working with someone to create something believable. I feel that people don’t listen to the “Greyhounds” song we did with Usher and just think that we were just trying to make a hit. I think they are wowed that it’s still De La being De La and telling a great story and then adding someone professional with a beautiful voice to do this chorus.

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