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Hip hop recording artists De La Soul

De La Soul: “The business of creativity and the business of the industry needs to match up”

Hip hop recording artists De La Soul
De La Soul

Music legends De La Soul (Maseo and Posdnuos) recently sat down with YouTube’s Director of Black Music and Culture, Tuma Basa, for our “Artist Voices” series. During the conversation Maseo and Pos reflected on their music, their lives, what they've learned and want to pass on to the next generation.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tuma Basa: FIFTY DEEP is multi-generational and you guys are mentors; you are the cathedral. So first thing, let's talk about the expansion of hip hop globally and how important it is to be authentic and why that's always worked for you or if you don't agree, this is your time to say…

Pos: The expansion of hip hop — and I'm sure Mase would agree with me — it's something that we've been blessed to see just from the beginning of De La Soul. As much as we were fans of the culture and what we did within that culture, once we came out as artists, we didn't just stay within New York. We started traveling all around the States, saw people in Paris or Nice within France or Berlin, Cologne, and Hamburg in Germany. They were all loving and consuming this culture at the same rate and understanding how to apply it to what they saw. We immediately saw that expansion from ‘89 and we continued to see how the world loved what the Bronx was doing, what Queens was doing, any part of the States and they took it and then they kind of got wise and said, “but yo, you know what, let's build on what we're doing.”

Maseo: I gotta agree with Pos, even to add on. Starting to experience all these different regions doing their own version of hip hop, you know, going to Germany and Amsterdam and meeting the Stieber Twins, and they just as big as Run DMC in America, or even going to meet Cora E, who’s just as popular as Queen Latifah but just in her region. But not only that, watching them adopt the culture but actually implementing it their own way… conversing the culture through their own culture. Not trying to be New York or let alone not even trying to be Black, just being in German, not even trying to be American, it's just doing hip hop from the land they learned it from. The authenticity of it is even presenting it the way they grew up, love it or hate it. It's just being real about how you presenting it from your own yard.

If you learn about your past you can add it to your present, which then helps your future ... even us as elders, if we're willing to realize that we can always remain to be a student, you can learn from some of these young students.”

Pos of De La Soul

Tuma: We’ve had four or five generations of hip hop, how do you think the multi-generational approach to FIFTY DEEP can help inspire other generations?

Pos: It's like reading a book. If you learn about your past you can add it to your present, which then helps your future. Music is the same way, when you learn about it, music is there for you, it's a jewel to capture and you be like wow, you just get motivated. Even us as elders, if we're willing to realize that we can always remain to be a student, you can learn from some of these young students.

It's there for whether it's Gunna or for Big Daddy Kane. It's there for everyone to be able to put egos aside and just be lovers of music and you can turn and me and Mase be like, “yo, that's dope,” and he’d be like you'd be like, “yo, who's that?” And you Shazam it and it's some young dude. You just never know who it is. That is always very pertinent in our lives, man, learning, information and if you're providing it and if you're willing to listen and gather it, it can help you.

Maseo: Music has been just as informative as books and movies - if not more. It’s documented history.

Tuma: Mase, especially you being a DJ, how has your sound evolved over time? I know the answer but I want to hear from you. How has YouTube influenced any kind of evolution of sound?

Maseo: For me it's been being able to travel. Travel has been a significant part of my growth in my musical style as a DJ as well as a producer. Being able to travel to foreign lands and having these different experiences, put my feet on the ground and seeing what every culture and club scene is like. Making my way to the record store to hear diverse music. It's a plus being Mase from De La because you learn the hidden gems from people who appreciate your presence and what you do. I never take that for granted and I always walk in like a student, because I'm a sucker for knowledge. I love it when Pos brings back new music that I have never been tapped into because he was in another frequency.

Tuma: Would you go on YouTube and listen to it?

Maseo: YouTube helps me go down a rabbit hole. When I get on one thing, then it's something that comes up that sends me down a rabbit hole of a bunch of other stuff that I'm not privy to. I can’t front on YouTube, I go there to play the records.

Pos: From the very beginning, if you could look at it as a search engine you'd be talking about Google, “like yo let me Google this,” so when it came to culture stuff in music, everyone went to YouTube. Even at the point where you couldn't even find certain things you could just like, “let me just go to YouTube.”

Maseo: YouTube is my tutorial on many levels even beyond music… but to stay with music it's like going through a friend's crate of records.

YouTube helps me go down a rabbit hole. When I get on one thing, then it's something that comes up that sends me down a rabbit hole of a bunch of other stuff that I'm not privy to. I can’t front on YouTube, I go there to play the records.”

Maseo of De La Soul

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Tuma: Is there something the industry is getting wrong today? With a direct line to the artists in this program, what can we push on?

Maseo: It's the question that is pretty much an onion layer. The one thing I can honestly say is that there's not a really good representation of hip hop when it comes to the music industry. As a music industry we only focus on the spoken word, which is rap music. What we get wrong is that we keep calling the genre hip hop, when we should get back to calling it rap music. Because not everything is hip hop that's in the music.

One of my main problems is that we’ve got a lot of great music out here, but it just sickens me when we actually call it hip hop and it's just not. It's great music but let's call it something else and that something else for me is rap music. That’s just one element that we really focus on when we talk about monetizing, putting out records, making songs, moving the people, and dancing and all of that and having a great time. At the same time even delivering a message or not delivering a message, but we focus on one element and we encapsulate it as hip hop and it's just one element of hip hop, rap music. And we need to get that home back in the industry. Because that's all the industry really focused on but they want to paint it as hip hop like it’s embellishing all the other parts of the culture, which it doesn't at all. It's like a Mercedes Benz with a Cadillac converter. You know I'm saying.

Tuma: A big part of what we do on FIFTY DEEP is for the artist but another big part is supporting the songwriters and producers. So like Theron Thomas, who just won a Grammy…Turbo, Tiara Thomas, these are all producers and songwriters who are in the class. So what can we do to help educate?

Pos: Being honest, the business side doesn't necessarily always run parallel to creativity. People that have figured out dope ways to have the unheard be heard is great. And then there are also people who are gonna be on the business side of this thing, like alright I want to be compensated for now being heard and that's something that always got to get caught up.

The model may not be set up just for that. But I do understand that a lot of younger brothers and sisters take the time to want to know about their business because sometimes I feel like them wanting to know about their business is actually way more important than knowing about and learning about the creative side of it. So it's always kind of disproportionate.

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Anybody who comes in and humbly says I don’t care about the money, they are lying. Because even to consistently move forward with the technology and the equipment, you gotta keep up with the stuff and that shit is expensive. ”

Maseo of De La Soul

Tuma: I always thought that the business of music is different from the music business.

Pos: Definitely.

Tuma: If you're in the business of music, you're taking creativity, you're taking culture, you’re taking context, you're taking history, and heritage, all these things into account. When you're just in the music business it's almost extractive where you’re just trying to take...transactions...out of business.

Mase, what you were talking about just now is the difference between the music community and music industry. The music community includes fans. It includes people who are just passionate activists, people who are native to the culture that has been popularized and actually care what happens. They've never seen a profit and loss statement and they don't want to see one, right? So for them, they actually care.

Maseo: I think every person who's saying that they don't care about monetizing. I believe they are lying. I believe every person who says they care about it, but they don't really care to be heard. They just care to create - and I've heard these things - I go, 'you're lying to yourself.'

Pos: When you have people trying to say I am deliberately here for the culture a lot of times, yeah, but your actions will show that you're judging someone else about money or actually acting a bit sour that you don't have what they have. And if you would turn around and put it as, we're both saying - the business - alongside it. Because sometimes that isn’t in your superpower but maybe your manager’s superpower, he is the one making sure I'm being protected and that's the community you need around you. You need to surround yourself with a community that takes care of every aspect of what needs to get done. That may not be your superpower. I want to focus on rhymes. You need whoever has the superpower to get it done.

Maseo: The business of creativity and the business of the industry, it needs to match up. Because it's not adding up. And anybody who comes in and humbly says I don’t care about the money, they are lying. Because even to consistently move forward with the technology and the equipment, you gotta keep up with the stuff and that shit is expensive.

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De La Soul

Tuma: If you were reincarnated into a 19 year old now, what would you tell yourself?

Pos: It's what we've been talking about…using the tools at hand. It's no different than Flash using the tools he used, what Run DMC used, it's the same thing with us in the 90s and it's the same thing now.

The thing is that regardless of if someone behind you don’t understand why you're using those tools - I'm using these tools because these are the tools that I was given. I'm able to sample because when I at one point came up in the industry, that is what it is. Someone can be like I'm using these CDJs because these are the tools that I saw and what I love about it is that I still as a person will look at the talent of the person using it. I don't feel that it can make someone talentless.

I just think about the tools that young kids have at hand. They have it all at their fingertips, use it. That's the biggest thing, use it. And as I said, even from the business side, you got ways of understanding information. You have ways of fact checking this. Use it. It’s at your disposal, because the only thing that's stopping you is you. Be honest with what is lacking in what you have and try to improve it. There could be someone on your team next to you that has it down pat, use it all to your disposal, that's how people become successful.

Maseo: When you're into what you're doing and you’re learning what's going on and you're being very discerning, you begin to learn how to delegate. Because you know you can't do everything. As we want to claim independence, you still need a team.

Amen. You guys are an inspiration. De La Soul is an institution. It's timeless; it doesn't matter where or when we know exactly what we are going to get.

Pos: Tuma, we love what we do and I'm blessed to have Mase and even when we had Dave, we just love learning about always reinterpreting things, realizing things, that wow, we was looking at things from this point of view and now as grown men with kids. We can look at it from that point of view.

Maseo: And based on how the world has just opened up and bonded so much even behind the internet, it's all intertwined. It's like, underground, overground, popular culture… it’s one big pot, and they implement it all.

When we were younger, we was wrestling with it. If we went platinum, we were considered sellouts. If you embarked on popular culture or you were a part of the establishment, you would be deemed a sell out, and I think our era has been able to overcome that over a period of time. These kids are jumping right into it, like that don't even exist. They love it all. Everything from Grammy, hip hop, trap shit, all the way to EDM, it's like one nation under a groove…no pun intended.

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