Two thirds of US hip hop pioneers De La Soul, proponents of a jazz-flavoured sound a world away from gangsta rap, are back, with an album born of a chance encounter with a pair of French producers.
The album and the new duo share a name, “First Serve”, and see De La Soul’s Pos and Dave working with French producers Chokolate and Khalid to perform in the alter egos of young rappers hitting the big time.
The collaboration emerged from an unplanned meeting on the streets of Paris.
“We had a great show here. We were chilling and freestyling on the streets of Paris with some hip hopdudes when they came up with their offer,” Pos told AFP.
“They were looking very good. Nice suits on. I was like — they got to be rich, let’s go in the studio and make money!”
The producer pair tell the story with the same tongue-in-cheek delight.
“We were sitting outside a cafe, downing expressos like all Parisians do when we saw them on the street,” said Khalid.
“We were looking for talent to produce. Seeing as they were small-time and didn’t have much of a career, we wanted to give them a helping hand,” joked Chokolate, who created the Jesgrew label with his partner for the release.
Formed by Pos, Dave and partner Maseo in Long Island in 1987, De La Soul played a major role in hip hop history, known for quirky lyrics, wide-ranging sampling and contribution to the creation of “alternative hip hop.”
The group’s 1989 debut “3 Feet High And Rising” shook up the hip hop establishment with its word play, humour and jazz, funk and soul samples.
The album also introduced De La Soul’s concept of the “D.A.I.S.Y. Age” — an acronym standing for “Da Inner Sound, Y’all” — a credo of upbeat positivity rather than the aggression that marked most other rap at the time.
Hit releases like “Me, Myself & I”, “Saturdays” and “Ring, Ring, Ring” saw the group win audiences outside of traditional rap fans.
After a dry patch, De La Soul returned in 2006 to work with UK artists Gorillaz on the single “Feel Good Inc” and gained a taste for collaborations.
For “First Serve”, released next Monday, Pos and Dave created two alter egos, dubbed Deen and Jacob, and the album chronicles their rise from Queens, their fall into decadence and eventual redemption.
To accompany the album, the duo filmed a series of videos as Deen and Jacob against animated backdrops.
They have also stayed in character during interviews and praised De La Soul for helping them break into the music business.
“De La Soul, they’re gods,” said Pos, speaking as Jacob. “I know they say three is the magic number” — a play on one of the band’s hit singles — “but there’s four of us, so that’s the magic number for us.”
The duo’s French producers have stuck with De La Soul’s tradition of sampling soul, funk and jazz for the album, using “old school” methods of recording raps over samples, but re-recording the music using live musicians.
“We wanted music that personified them, so they could personify their characters,” Chokolate said. “We liked this kind of sound and we said ‘Why not go there taking into account dance floor culture’, which we also love.”