De La Soul returns today with ninth album And the Anonymous Nobody, which finds the hip-hop trio forgoing samples of other artists in favor of all-original music. Recorded over 200 hours of jam sessions with studio and orchestra musicians, the crowdfunded effort boasts a star-studded guest list including Usher, Snoop Dogg, Jill Scott, and 2 Chainz.
Two of the group’s members — Kelvin “Pos” Mercer, 47, and David “Dave” Jolicoeur, 47 — caught up with USA TODAY ahead of Nobody‘s release:
Q: What was the genesis of this album?
Dave: The project started back in 2012, 2013. We toured with a band called Rhythm Roots Allstars, an ensemble out of L.A. One of us mentioned: “Hey, we’re in the studio. You guys want to just mess around and see what we can come up with?” We did that for a week or two and it came out cool. We were just like: “Wow, as we’re recording this stuff, it has this old, warm sound to it. Why don’t we just jam, go back and listen to that stuff, and sample some of it?”
Q: Where did the title, And the Anonymous Nobody, come from?
D: I used to use the name “Anonymous Nobody” when I made donations to different organizations and charities. For me, I expressed to the guys, “This project is for people who just want to be nameless and contribute to something good.”
Q: You raised $600,000 for the album on Kickstarter, far exceeding your goal of $110,000. Why did you ask for partial funding?
Pos: We knew different execs from labels who were interested in hearing what we could present to them. But as we were putting together certain songs like Lord Intended, it felt good being seven minutes long. And with Drawn, we were like, “We can use Little Dragon and some other members of the group to add stuff.” It was this unconventional way of arranging it, so we thought: “If we bring this to a label, the A&R (the division of the record label responsible for artistic development) would be interested. But after a second or third listen, they’d start [giving] their input.” So that’s when we thought we should go directly to the fans and present the music the way we wanted.
Q: Who was the most difficult artist to lock in for a feature?
P: It wasn’t hard for the people who actually got on the album. The first person we reached out to was David Byrne, so he set the bar for us like, “Wow, if David Byrne will do it, why don’t we ask anyone?” The person we really wanted on the album but never ended up being was Willie Nelson, for a song called Unfold. He was either releasing an album or touring. Also, on Lord Intended, we originally wanted Axl Rose, but we couldn’t locate him.
Q: Younger fans may know you best from Feel Good Inc. with Gorillaz. You mentioned recently that you’re working together on their next album?
P: Hopefully. Damon [Albarn] is a great friend of ours, and whenever we’re in the U.K., we hang out with him. We haven’t recorded anything yet, but I would love to be on it.
Q: What have been some of your favorite albums so far this year?
P: There are a ton of songs — I love some Drake — but it’s hard to say an actual album I listened to from beginning to end.
Q: Have you heard Frank Ocean’s new album [Blonde] yet?
P: No, I’ve heard it’s really good. I’m looking forward to just sitting down in the next day or two and digesting it.
D: I listened to it this morning. It sounds a little scattered — it’s not as defined as the first one [Channel Orange], but that aspect of it I like. I like hearing ideas and not necessarily songs that are complete. He definitely shared a lot of cool things with us.
Q: Who are some artists in hip-hop right now you admire most or think are doing something important?
P: I’m a big fan of Kendrick Lamar and where he stands musically, and how he’s willing to grow and try things.
D: I like Anderson .Paak. Anderson is really inspiring, and lyrically, the Frank Ocean album has really inspired me. I know that’s going to attribute to me sitting down and writing some lyrics.