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Interview: Hip hop pioneers De La Soul change the game again with crowd-funded album

De La Soul Kickstarter Album

When groundbreaking hip-hop trio De La Soul decided it was time to make the group’s eighth album “And the Anonymous Nobody” – its first release in 11 years – the pioneering rappers had a vision for the collection of tracks they’re planning to release in September.

The group’s members knew, for example, they wanted to bring in an eclectic set of guests artists like rapper 2 Chainz and David Byrne of the Talking Heads. They wanted the music to turn heads and make a statement. Even more important – they wanted to go the crowd-funding route, to side-step the complications and interference of teaming up with a label, says the group’s Dave Jolicoeur.

On Monday, they unveiled a Kickstarter campaign for the album with a goal set at $110,000. Less than 24 hours later, the group had already topped the goal in a big way, with fan response bringing in pledges at the time of this writing that total more than $265,000.

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“We actually don’t call it crowd-funding,” Jolicoeur tells BGR. “We call it fan-funding. From people who believe in what we’re doing.

“Kickstarter is one of those platforms that gives you space to work with people who know you, love you and support you. And lo and behold, look what happened.”

Work on the project has been ongoing over the last three years, as the group hired top L.A. studio musicians and recorded them playing in unrehearsed jam sessions. Most of that recording was done at the Vox studio in L.A., with the group saying they preferred it for the resulting “creamy, analog, warm mixing board sound that the old records our parents once played had.”

The sessions produced more than 200 hours’ worth of sounds, which the group has been going back through and figuring out what can be sampled, looped, chopped up, filtered and arranged for the new recording. In effect, they’ve created their own music to sample from – and the freedom that afforded, unlike the tricky business of sampling from other artists, led the band to continue thinking about how best to preserve its creative vision, eventually arriving at Kickstarter.

In a video featuring the group on the Kickstarter campaign page, the rappers mentions their troubles with sampling in the past, with Jolicoeur commenting about past litigation: “They had to even create a new kind of lawyer to sue us. All you sampling attorneys out there? You’re welcome.”

This time, he went on, the band decided to create its own music first – and sample that.

“We’ve been independent for almost the last decade,” Jolicoeur explained. “We didn’t want to partner with a label. We’ve had opportunities to, and we’ve been on a great label – Tommy Boy – for many years. They were amazing. But at the same time, there were moments that were frustrating. The memories of sitting down in a board room and going through samples where people are saying you can’t use this or, no, we’re not spending money on that – those kinds of things are discouraging. It kills the creative process. Those ideas aren’t our ideas. So we thought, what’s the best way to do this? The best way to do it is to find people who have faith and believe in our vision.”

Most of the contributor awards associated with the group’s Kickstarter have been claimed already, so the group is now thinking about what comes next and what kind of stretch goals might make sense.

About working with different artists for the project, Jolicoeur says: “When you hear a song, it kind of calls for an instrument. Sometimes that instrument is another human being. It’s like, yo, this song would be crazy if we had Chaka Khan on it. So, piecing these things together, we’re saying wow, you know what would be amazing? This song sounds like David Byrne’s voice. It sounds like it has a feel like something the early Talking Heads would do. We let the music speak to us. We even tried to get Willie Nelson for this project, but he was unavailable.

“I think in terms of our legacy, I think it’s consistency. I think the work we do, people can say that’s De La, and they do it well. And it hasn’t ever veered from its course. There’s a consistency in integrity, in being creative, in raising an eyebrow and having people think.”

Andy Meek profile photo

Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.