De La Soul Announce Kickstarter-Funded Album ft. Damon Albarn, David Byrne, 2 Chainz More

De La Soul

De La Soul photographed in 2013.

Robbie Jeffers

The rap legends tell Billboard about the select crop of current MCs who inspire them.

Hip-hip veterans De La Soul have just announced their upcoming album — but there’s no title, no release date, and most notably, no label. Yes, De La is relying on the support of fans via Kickstarter to release their ninth full-length project, and they’ve recruited music notables like Damon Albarn, David Byrne, 2 Chainz and Little Dragon to contribute, with more special guests to be announced.

“I had a few reservations about it [Kickstarter],” Kelvin “Pos” Mercer of De La Soul told Billboard. But the group was wary of being beholden to a label, “who would want us to merge ourselves [artistically] with what was going on now, in the way that they saw fit.” De La Soul has had some trouble with labels in the past, mostly because changing copyright laws and sample clearance issues have rendered most of their early recordings digitally unsalable (besides 2004’s The Grind Date, none are available digitally). “We feel that by putting it out independently,” Pos continued, “and allowing the fans to play the biggest part in supporting it, we can bring it to them the way we want to.”

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The album itself features primarily original instrumentals — a marked change from most of De La’s previous work. Bringing in noted L.A. house band the Rhythm Roots Allstars, who they’ve been playing with for almost 10 years, as well as an assortment of other L.A. studio musicians, the trio hit the studio over the course of the past two to three years, “just letting the tape roll — whatever happens, happens,” Dave Jude Jolicoeur, aka Trugoy, put it. 

“There’s really no direction except the tempo,” he said. “It was an organic thing — we would have anywhere from 4-5 musicians to as many as 13 people playing at one time.”  The fruits of these countless jam sessions lay the groundwork for the new album, inspiring the MCs as they continue to find ways to rework the instrumentals that have been created. “We forgot a lot about a lot of stuff,” Dave added. “Now we’re sitting down and listening to [the recordings] just like we would listen to records we bought at the store, finding the parts that we’ll enjoy, and possibly manipulating them on the album.”

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The group hasn’t completely abandoned sampling other artists and older recordings, but it’s extremely limited on the new album. “There might be three or four things,” according to Dave. “Maybe a certain snare that we didn’t capture [with the live band], or a sampled voice. I mean, James Brown always sounds great.”

Though there’s no definite theme for the album yet, Dave and Pos hinted that “it’s all visual. It sounds like a score. You can see it as well as hear it.”

When asked about where hip-hop is today as opposed to De La’s heyday (almost 25 years ago), Dave replied, “There’s some cool stuff out there, but there’s nothing that’s so amazing that it inspires me to want to do something ten times better than what I did 20 years ago.” He continued, “I don’t care what name anyone puts on the table, it’s not that amazing — it’s just not the norm.”

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Pos did name some current artists who inspire his writing, however — along with Kendrick Lamar and Action Bronson (“his song ‘Terry’ with Alchemist, I just kept playing it and playing it”), he also listens to YG and Wiz Khalifa. “The rawness of something silly or funny” is inspiring to the MC, “even if it’s to go against it.”

Here are just a few of the things you can get for contributing to De La Soul’s Kickstarter:

  • A shopping trip with De La Soul (toy shopping with Dave, record shopping with Maseo, or sneaker shopping with Pos)
  • A Skype date with the trio
  • Thumb drives in the shape of each member’s head
  • De La Soul Nike sneakers
  • A day in the studio with the group, during which you record vocals for a skit on the album
  • A custom print
  • A boom box from Dave’s personal collection or an MPC from Pos’ collection
  • Dave’s gold record plaque for 3 Feet High and Rising