Ahead of his appearance on the wheels of steel at The Music Room this week, Peter Feely catches up with the member of legendary hip-hop outfit De La Soul.
Your album 3 Feet High And Rising came out in 1989. Why do you think it still sounds so fresh today?
When there’s different, original material that people can’t copy, there’s nothing else that sounds close to it. It’s the same with [Public Enemy’s] Chuck D. He had a style a lot of rappers tried to replicate but never quite could. If they did it, it sounded like Chuck D.
When did you realise that you had become a success?
In my eyes I made it when they first played my record on the radio. People fail to realise that in hip-hop we couldn’t become celebrities until the weekend. It wasn’t like our record was getting played on mainstream radio anywhere. We were getting a lot of mix-show love and any other kinda love we got was on a Thursday or Friday. Now the overall [hip-hop] genre has notoriety and has outsold country music.
You were described as a hippy group in comparison to gangster rap – what did you make of that at the time?
At that moment in time it was understandable, based on the direction of the album cover [3 Feet High And Rising]. Granted it is pretty monumental at this point but we never cared for it. I can appreciate it today but back then it was in our eyes a negative depiction of what we were really doing. It was someone from the label [who created the cover] in the art department.
[But] there was [actually] more hip-hop music like De La Soul than gangster rap. We all forget about Nice & Smooth and Chubb Rock. We all forget about Special Ed. There was a lot of rappers that were not gangster as well. It was only a selective few that were gangster and they came from the West Coast at the time we came. And at the same time, they weren’t all that gangster, it’s just that the message was harsh.‘Ghetto Thang’ had the same message as ‘Straight Outta Compton’ [by NWA] – it was just a lighter version of it. All of us share the same message, we just had it from a different point of view.
How was it working with Damon Albarn from Blur and the Gorillaz?
It started out with a little tension as we’d just met and nobody was really feeling it but we were trying to make it work. And he [Damon] just blurted out, ‘honestly, tell me what you think of this?’ I said, ‘I think this sucks and I think we’ve lost it.’ The studio session ended up turning into a celebration, which is how we ended up getting ‘Feel Good Inc’. What he saw us go through as a group – he said, ‘man, I could never do this with my own group [Blur]. That’s why we’re not together – we could never really hash out our problems.’ I’m sure we’ll work with Damon again. We became close – we’re friends – we’re like family.
Dhs100. September 20, 9pm-3am. The Music Room, Majestic Hotel Tower, Bur Dubai (050 725 8277).