De La Soul
w/Blue Scholars
Mon Nov 15,
Showbox, 8 pm, $18 adv./$20 DOS, all ages.

Before completing a trilogy that began with 2000's Mosaic Thump, hiphop greats De La Soul parted ways with Tommy Boy, the label that signed them back in 1987 and released the classic Three Feet High and Rising. De La's latest, The Grind Date, out now on Sanctuary Records, is their best effort since Stakes Is High (1996). What follows is part of a long phone conversation with De La emcee Posdenous.

The New Label

"The Grind Date came together after everything unfortunately went haywire at Tommy Boy. It was then we decided it wasn't a good idea to give our new label, Sanctuary Records, the DJ album that we had worked on to complete our AOI trilogy with Tommy Boy." [Completed last year, De La Soul's unreleased DJ record is about "the art of the hiphop DJ," with skits about learning the trade, and De La's mentor, Prince Paul, doing an instructional bit.] "In doing that particular album," says Posdenous, "there was no room for myself and Dave [Plug Two] in terms of rhyming. There were two or three songs with us rapping, and the rest was skits, cool little interludes, and instrumentals. We thought it would be unfair to start a relationship with [a label] by giving them something that was part of an old and dead relationship."

The Making of The Grind Date

"With De La, it's about what works. Even the music I've produced for the group doesn't always work; I may like it but Dave might not feel like rapping to it. This is the same with everyone else. For example, Jake One [Seattle's star hiphop producer] presented us with 40 beats but there were only two that really worked for us ["Days of Our Lives" and "Rock Co.Cane Flow"]. And it's not that the other 38 beats were wack. All of his beats show that Jake One has talent. The two that we picked were beats we felt could be married to what we feel is De La Soul.

"A perfect example is this: A while back, Kanye West presented us with the beat for 'Get By' before he presented it to Talib Kweli. We didn't take it. We couldn't have made a great song out of it the way Kweli did. I would never have thought of making a chorus that says 'Get By' and having a choir singing. So that's how we do things. Jake One, Supa Dave West, J-Dilla, Madlib, and Ninth Wonder are part of the camp whose beats De La is married to.

"What I like about the people who worked on our new record-- especially Dave West, Dilla, Jake One--is they love trying different things. It's not that we have a particular idea in mind, [or] say, 'Well, let's go to the producer for that sound.' That's not how we work. These producers are very diverse and flexible and so what comes out of us is always unexpected. We want to be surprised by what the beat makes us think about."

Vitamin D

"We found out about Jake One because we were taking beats from Vitamin D [an established local producer and DJ]. We took three tracks from [Vitamin D] but unfortunately they didn't make it. One of those beats is actually my favorite [unused] song, called 'Bigger.' It's incredible. But we felt that lyrically we didn't live up to it. I mean, the track stood out from the entire album. 'Bigger' is a much slower track, very melodic, a lot of instrumentation. It just stands out, and lyrically we could have written something better to it."

True Lyricists

"The difference between a true lyricist and a rapper is that a true lyricist finds new things in new environments. For example, the beats Jake One gave us are amazing and we could have rapped to them all. But it's about taking it a step further and asking, What is this beat pulling out of me? So, what you have to say is found in the beat, and not the other way around. That's what we think is a great marriage between the rap and the beat. Not just spitting lyrics over any old beat, which is what average rappers do, but finding out what the beat inspires you to say."

charles@thestranger.com

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