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'Fresh Air' celebrates 50 years of hip-hop: De La Soul's Trugoy the Dove and Maseo

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. This week we're celebrating hip-hop's 50th anniversary by featuring interviews from our archive with performers who hold a significant place in that history. Today two groups known for their innovative sampling and smart, clever lyrics - De La Soul and the Beastie Boys. We'll start with De La Soul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME MYSELF AND I")

DE LA SOUL: (Rapping) Mirror, mirror on the wall. Tell me, mirror. What is wrong? Can it be my de la clothes? Or is it just my De La Soul? What I do ain't make-believe. People say I sit and try. But when it comes to being De La, it's just me, myself and I. It's just me, myself and I. It's just me, myself and I. It's just me, myself and I.

GROSS: De La Soul made its debut in 1989 with the album "3 Feet High And Rising," which went against the grain of harder rap that was prominent at the time. The album was not only fun, it was funny. It sampled a wide range of music, from Liberace to Steely Dan to George Clinton, and it helped launch what was called the Native Tongues movement, a collective of hip-hop artists known for positive, playful lyrics and a lack of posturing. The founding members of De La Soul were David Jolicoeur, or Dave, otherwise known as Trugoy the Dove; Vincent Mason, known as Mase; and Kelvin Mercer, known as Pos or Posdnuos. The group formed when they were in high school in Amityville, Long Island, and were discovered by DJ and producer Prince Paul. Their album "3 Feet High And Rising" is in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry.

But despite their influence, their music had been unavailable for years because of legal issues having to do with their record company and sampling. This year they got the rights to their master recordings and now you can stream and download their music. But sadly, Dave Jolicoeur died in February at the age of 54, just before their music became available. In 2000, I spoke to Dave and Mase after the release of their album "Art Official Intelligence."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Dave, Mase, welcome to FRESH AIR.

DAVE: Thanks for having us.

MASE: Thanks for having us.

GROSS: Let me play something from the first De La Soul record, "3 Feet High And Rising." And on this CD, you pay tribute to a type of kids song I imagine you grew up with, which is "Multiplication Rock." And so this is - this kind of takes off from there. Let's hear it. This is "Three Is The Magic Number" (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MAGIC NUMBER")

DE LA SOUL: (Singing) Three. That's the magic number. Yes, it is. It's the magic number. Somewhere in this hip-hop soul community was born three - Mase, Dove and me. And that's the magic number. Difficult preaching is Posdnuos' pleasure. Pleasure and preaching starts in the heart. Something that stimulates the music in the measure. Measure in the music, raised in three parts. Casually see but don't do like the soul 'cause seeing and doing are actions for monkeys. Doing hip-hop hustle, no rock 'n' roll, unless your name's Brewster, 'cause Brewster's a punk.

Parents, let go 'cause there's magic in the air. Criticizing rap shows - you're out of order. Stop, look, and listen to the phrase, you Fred Astaires. And don't get offended while Mase do-si-do's your daughter. A tri-camera rolls since our music's now set. Fly rhymes are stored on a D.A.I.S.Y. production. It stands for Da Inner Sound, Y'all, and y'all can bet that the action's not a trick, but showing the function. Everybody wants to be a DJ. Everybody wants to be an MC. But being speakers are the best, and you don't have to guess. De La Soul posse consists of three, and that's the magic number.

This here piece of the pie is not dessert but the course that we dine. And three out of every darn time, the effect is mmm (ph) when a daisy grows in your mind. Showing true position, this here piece is kissing the part of the pie that's missing when that negative number fills up the casualty. Maybe you can subtract it. You can call it your lucky partner. Maybe you can call it your adjective. But odd as it may be, without my one and two, where would there be my three - Mase, Pos and me? And that's the magic number. Focus is formed by flaunts to the soul...

GROSS: That's from De La Soul's first CD. It was really refreshing, I think, to hear rap that was ironic and really playful. And I'm wondering if you were almost afraid to do that then because it was so different from the kind of more hardcore rap that took itself really seriously about how good the rapper was in bed or on the street or at the microphone.

MASE: No, we weren't afraid. I mean, that's really where we come from. That's what we knew. So...

DAVE: Yeah.

MASE: ...That's what we knew to implement in our music.

DAVE: It was an innocence. We paid no mind to what was happening on around us. I mean, you know, the people that we admired and looked up to were the Run-DMCs and the Public Enemys and the...

MASE: LL Cool Js.

DAVE: ...LL Cool Js and KRS-Ones. And, you know, none of these groups sound anything alike. You know, everyone was doing their own thing. So to step into the game or even try to introduce our game - ourselves to the game was, like, OK, well, we're bringing our own thing to light also. And there was an innocence there that, you know, paid no attention to fads, what was in, you know, what was selling and what was not and what wasn't. It was just, you know, a couple of kids just getting together and having a good time and giving a product to a company that had bigger plans for it, you know? And that's where it was with us. So, I mean, to sit back and really analyze the situation and say, wow, are we going to make it? Is this going to be accepted or what have you? That was no concern of ours.

GROSS: What's the range of reactions you got to that first CD, which was filled with humor and irony and - we'll get to this later - with samples from just all kinds of different music?

DAVE: People loved what we did. I mean, I have to honestly say that's my favorite and probably will be the best album that I felt like we've ever done. Like I said, there weren't any boundaries. We were just some young kids having a good time, and people respected it for that. It was like, wow, these guys aren't, you know, afraid to give themselves 100%. Whether you thought it was childish, whether you thought it was funny or whether you thought it was ingenious, it was just - people accepted it. People was like, wow, I always wanted to do something like that, but I just was afraid to put it, you know, on tape. I always wanted to sample that, but I didn't think it would work.

And it was always good to hear, you know, the toughest of the tough, you know, the gangsters, you know, someone like a KRS-One at our first release party just praising us like, wow, De La Soul, you guys are incredible. This is crazy. Or DMC from Run-DMC having to get to our first show that we ever did was like, yo, I got to be here front row. I got to be right in the front. It was good to see those people that, you know, went out and bought records for years just loving what we did. It was excellent.

GROSS: Did you think anything was misinterpreted?

MASE: I think the only thing that maybe was misinterpreted that people kept classifying us to be hippies, you know, when we didn't really have an understanding of what that was all about. It was cool...

GROSS: I wonder how much of that just came from the design on the album jacket?

DAVE: Yeah.

GROSS: It had, like, daisies on it.

MASE: And yeah, it came from the design.

DAVE: Yeah, people misinterpreted the look, you know? I mean, I think people thought that we were going out trying to advertise ourselves as, you know, this fun-loving, you know, '60s hip-hop group. And I was born in the late '60s. I knew nothing about, you know...

MASE: I'm a '70s baby myself (laughter).

DAVE: I think that's the only thing that kind of, like, got at us was like, you know, when it came down to publicity and advertising the record, people always wanted us to take pictures with flowers and make sure you wear yellow and lime green. And, you know, it was like, you know, well, I want to wear brown today, you know? So it was that kind of a thing that was kind of a bit annoying.

GROSS: The samples on that first CD included Steely Dan, Liberace, Otis Redding, The Jarmels, who did "A Little Bit Of Soap." "Stand By Me," I think is sampled on it, the Ben E. King record. There's a French language instruction record. How did you know all these records?

MASE: Parents' record collections.

DAVE: Yeah.

MASE: That's really what it was. I mean, I was kind of hung up in the funk era and reggae era with my parents and my uncles and stuff. And...

DAVE: And my parents were listening to Perry Como, Liberace...

GROSS: Really (laughter)?

DAVE: ...Sammy Davis Jr. and, you know, stuff like that. And...

MASE: And Pos' parents have a real strong Southern background.

DAVE: Yeah.

MASE: So they listened to a lot of Otis Redding...

DAVE: Redding and - yeah.

MASE: ...You know, a lot of the stuff that was on this popular station called ABC back in the day.

GROSS: Oh, home of the good guys. Yeah. Right.

MASE: Yeah.

DAVE: Yeah.

MASE: Well, we got, you know...

DAVE: And then, of course, Prince Paul, who collected stuff like "Multiplication Rock"...

MASE: Rock.

DAVE: ...And the "Mickey Mouse" records and, you know, all sorts of kiddie records like that. So just, you know, everybody bringing their force into it made "3 Feet High And Rising" what it was.

GROSS: So these are all records that you really liked, even if you like some of them for being really bad, I mean, for just really being so awful that they were fun?

DAVE: Oh, yeah. I mean, you're always going to find something. You know, it's not every record. I mean, there are a lot of records that are in our crates that, you know, are just, like, you know, just for one thing. But that one thing makes it special. And that Liberace record...

GROSS: Yeah.

DAVE: ...I'm not going to sit here and say that I listen to Liberace all day, but, you know. So that introduction was just incredible, you know? And that worked for De La Soul. It was like, you know, that had to go on the record.

GROSS: I think we'd better hear the Liberace sample.

DAVE: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLUG TUNIN' (LAST CHANCE TO COMPREHEND)")

LIBERACE: And now for my next number, I'd like to return to the classics - perhaps the most famous classic in all the world of music.

DE LA SOUL: (Rapping) The first time around, you didn't quite understand our new style of speak. Don't worry. We can fix that right now. So why don't you all just grab your bags. Come on aboard, hoist the anchor and we'll be off. Plug One. Plug One.

GROSS: That's from De La Soul's first CD, "3 Feet High And Rising." My guests are two of the three members of the group - Dave and Mase. And they have a new CD, which is called "Art Official Intelligence." So when you started sampling, I'm wondering if you started shopping for records in a different way than you ever did before, just looking for cool things to put on your own records?

DAVE: What's so funny - the method of shopping for records was kind of, like, really different. I mean, it's like that for a lot of hip-hop artists. We sometimes are clueless of the artist and what music they play and what instruments or what type of music it is. Sometimes we just - we're looking at a couple of things. We're looking at the year. We're looking at what instruments are being played. We're looking at the font on the record. If it looks like it's psychedelic, that might have something different. If it looks jazzy, it might - you know, we're looking at a lot of other things more than who the musician is and what the songs are, you know? It's funny how we shop for records. It really is. It's - you know, you're looking for certain labels. Like I said, you're looking for the font on the album cover, and you're looking for the year.

GROSS: Do you mostly go to used record stores and look for vinyl, or do you use CDs for sampling, too?

MASE: I personally look for vinyl due to the fact that I'm a DJ and I highly support vinyl. And when I am DJing, I like to put a lot of obscure scratches into what I'm doing sometimes, let alone playing some of these old records - you know, some of these old records that I've been looking for, like a King Floyd record or Otis Redding record that I would love to play in a party, like, to play at a certain break in a party or something like that and then go into my next tune. So I'm highly supportive of shopping for vinyl. It's just a DJ thing.

DAVE: It is. I think just, you know, seeing how many much - how much more records you can just load into that garage that's already looking like some sort of...

MASE: A record store (laughter).

DAVE: Yeah. A record junkyard.

MASE: Yeah.

DAVE: You know, it's just - it's always a good feeling, also, to just crack that new plastic and then put something on that turntable and hope that you find the most incredible, you know, horn section or a drum loop or - it's just exciting.

GROSS: Now, after your first CD, you were sued by The Turtles for sampling something from one of their records. What was the outcome of the suit?

DAVE: It was settled.

MASE: Settled out of court.

DAVE: It was settled out of court. Unfortunately, what happened was the record "3 Feet High And Rising" was - there was a demand for it, and the rush was there to get it in stores. And, you know, we turned in all sample information and what we sampled and what we needed cleared. And unfortunately, the record label just didn't take its time out to - you know, to hash out all business prior to putting the record out. So the sample clearance thing never happened. And the record obviously took off. And rightfully, you know, The Turtles came back and, you know, sued us for, you know, not clearing the samples. That's fine. That was cool. But we did settle it out of court, and all is well.

GROSS: What impact do you think that suit had on other rappers?

DAVE: It had an impact on rap as a whole, I think - you know, ourselves and the whole Biz Markie suit when his album got pulled off the shelves. You know, nowadays you got to clear samples. I mean...

MASE: Sampling is big business now.

DAVE: Yeah, it's...

GROSS: Right.

DAVE: ...Huge. And we were a small part of that. I mean, but something that we always respected, I mean, even before the sampling laws came out and as strict as they are now - you know, like I said, "3 Feet High And Rising" record, we tried to clear as much as we could.

GROSS: We're listening to my interview with Dave and Mase from the group De La Soul. I spoke to them in 2000. We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DE LA SOUL SONG, "CHANGE IN SPEAK")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview I recorded in 2000 with two members of De La Soul - Dave, who died earlier this year, and Mase. Here's another track from "3 Feet High And Rising," their first album, which was released in 1989.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EYE KNOW")

DE LA SOUL: (Rapping) Greetings, girl, and welcome to my world of phrase. I'm right up to bat. It's a D.A.I.S.Y. age, and you're about to walk top stage. So wipe your Lottos on the map. Hip-hop love this is, and don't mind when I quiz your involvements before the sun. But clear your court 'cause this a one-man sport. And who's better for this than Plug One? Now you don't have to worry about me squashing other deals 'cause they've already been squished. Freeze a frame about moods the same which we can continue right behind the bush. You'll stay with me. I know this but not because of all my Earthly treasures or regardless to the fact that I'm Posdnuos but because I know I love you better.

GROSS: How do you think your experiences growing up in Amityville, Long Island, which is a suburb of New York, compared to the experiences of some urban rappers who ended up doing more, you know, hardcore kind of raps?

DAVE: It's a different upbringing. I mean, Long Island and especially Amityville gave us the opportunity to not be around maybe all the inner city elements, you know, schoolyard and, you know...

MASE: And that was just back then.

DAVE: Yeah.

MASE: Nowadays, Long Island is not that much different from the inner city.

DAVE: Yeah, it's not that much different. But, you know, whether you're dealing with, you know, the next person on top of you in projects and, you know, it's overcrowded or what have you, you know, we - you know, you had a single-family home, your own bedroom, a big backyard to play in. And, you know, you did things like went to Tanner Park and went fishing. Or, you know, you...

MASE: It's just room to be an individual in Long Island.

DAVE: Yeah, room to breathe, room to get to see different things, you know, go out east and go on pony rides or, you know, go to the farm. Or, you know, you got a chance to see different things. And your mind was open to new and different things, as opposed to, you know, the kids who were just - who just got the park and that's it.

GROSS: Did you ever go through a phase of trying to pretend like you were from, you know, an inner city background?

DAVE: No.

MASE: Well, myself and Dave both lived in Brooklyn at one time.

DAVE: Yeah, I mean, it was a part of our lives regardless. We got the best of both worlds, you know? We had the opportunity to see the grimy part and, you know, appreciate, you know, getting out of the hood, you know? You know, a lot of rappers nowadays will represent the hood to the fullest. And I'll be honest, I don't want to represent the hood. I want to get out of the hood.

MASE: I want to get out the hood (laughter).

DAVE: So it's like, you know, we've seen the best of both worlds. And I think it's important as a young Black male to get to see both worlds because you're going to have to be a part of it in life regardless. You're going to be put in that position where people think that that's where you're from anyway. So it's not a problem knowing it, and nor are we ashamed to be a part of it. It's just sickening when you hear those who act as if that's the best place to be. I'm proud of being raised in Long Island part of my life.

MASE: I think I'm doing the community a service by getting out (laughter).

DAVE: Yeah, right? And plus, on top of that, I mean, now that we're fathers, you know, Long Island - Long Island is cool. It's not the best as it used to be. But it just motivates me to know if my parents got me out of Brooklyn, then I can get my kids out of Long Island. And that's all it's doing for us and has done for us.

GROSS: I'm wondering if either of you had parents who were very political, and not necessarily voting booth politics, but just in terms of having a kind of political, social analysis of class and race in America, and if they talked to you a lot about that.

DAVE: I think we grew up with parents who just, you know, had, you know, moral backbone. It was like, you know, I'm not sending my kid out in the street looking any old way. I'm not going to send my kid out in the streets or into school, you know, not knowing how to speak. You know, my parents were very strict. And, you know, if we got out of line, you know, we got dealt with also. And I - you know, it doesn't necessarily take, you know, mom and dad in the household. Perfect example is Mase. And it's like, you know, seeing how his mom was - and Ms. Mason raised us, myself, Pos, you know? It's like, you know, when you - when we weren't at home with our parents, she was there making sure that we were in order, you know? So I could imagine how it went down in his house.

MASE: And I grew up in a single parent home. You know, I come from a lot of the struggle that these rappers talk about. I've been on welfare. I've lived from house to house. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment, putting milk on a windowsill. And, you know, regardless of all the trials and tribulations I've been through with my mom, my mother is my hero, you know? She struggled. And she struggled to really provide a good life for me and my brother. She did everything possibly under the sun to make sure that we've had a pretty stable life, you know, working odd jobs as well as having public assistance.

DAVE: Yeah. And sometimes it goes just further than just putting food on the table. I mean, you know, after they put food on the table, they made sure that you held the fork the right way and, you know, you didn't stuff your mouth like a...

MASE: Instilled those values in my head.

DAVE: Yeah. And those things were more important than, you know, her working a 12-hour shift or what have you, or my mom and my dad trading up on shifts - and, you know, you babysit them, then, while I go and work. It's like, you know, a lot of things - a lot of other things were important to them, too. So that's kind of what molded us to be the people that we are today.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both so much for talking with us.

DAVE: Thanks for having us.

GROSS: Dave and Mase of De La Soul recorded in 2000. Dave Jolicoeur died in February. The following month, De La Soul's music finally became available for streaming and download after legal issues had held it up. Coming up, we'll hear my 2006 interview with the Beastie Boys. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JENIFA TAUGHT ME (DERWIN’S REVENGE)")

DE LA SOUL: (Rapping) Access to her code. Love-struck was my mode. Took a look, dropped my textbook - Jenifa, oh. Breakfast, broke it fast. She was in my English class. Asked for notes, rocked my boat - Jenifa, oh. Jenny lost her favorite penny, so I gave her a dollar. She kissed me and I hollered. In a flash, the school bell rang. Jenny grabbed onto my hand, took me home and said, Trugoy, just swing and swing and swing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.
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