"It was 1988, I was 18 years old, trying to graduate high school."
That's how Vincent Mason, otherwise known as Maseo of golden-era hip-hop trio De La Soul, remembers the days, weeks, and months leading up to the life-changing release of 3 Feet High and Rising, a golden-era hip-hop masterpiece so definitive that it's even been enshrined in the Library of Congress.
Now, a quarter century after their debut, Maseo and his partners, Posdnuos and Dave, are still recording, touring, and keeping the De La Soul dream alive. And recently, in anticipation of a headlining Art Basel Miami Beach week gig at The Stage, we here at Crossfade got the chance to chat with Maseo about the group's history and its greatest album.
Crossfade: How long have you lived in South Florida?
DJ Maseo: For, like, goin' on 13 years now.
Your 3 Feet High and Rising record from 1989 is widely considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. How did you come up with that crazy game show intro?
People think it was such an intricate thought process. It was really just us buggin' out in the studio about whatever was happening that day. The intro, we did at the end of making the album while we were sequencing. The game show announcer voice is actually the mixing engineer.
When did you start writing the songs for 3 Feet?
We started around 1985, inspired by the consciousness of Rakim and Public Enemy, and then Ultramagnetic, who were just bugged out, and Run DMC, who were truly at the forefront of just being yourself on the stage.
Can you talk about the production of your experimental 3 Feet interlude "Cool Breeze on the Rocks"?
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It's less than 30 seconds, but it took like three days to put together. I was doing all the scratches between the pieces of the different records. It was editing tape, y'know. You actually had to do it with a razor blade, and a stroke pen to mark it. That's where cut-and-paste comes from. But I never had the patience for that. I gotta commend every engineer from the analog era. Tape has that certain sound that makes it classic. Each engineer had their own style and that sound will never be quite the same.
A lot of long days in the studio for 3 Feet then?
We would really treat it like school. Everybody pretty much had homework to do. We would do a lot at home via four track, developing, and getting all our tools together before going to the studio. Ain't nothin' wrong with writing. That's being two to three steps ahead of the game.
See also: Art Basel Miami Beach 2013 Party Guide
What kind of gear were you using back then for beats?
I had a Casio RZ-1 that I borrowed from my friend Tony who was another DJ in the neighborhood.
How did the famous De La Soul remixes come about?
Man, it was just mad people in the studio, a whole ensemble of MCs. We were doing the album and we just jumped right into it. The industry likes to credit other people, but we were really the first to do remixes where the music was completely changed between records. First, it was "Freedom Of Speak," second was "Buddy," and third was "Me Myself and I." You know, Q-Tip from A Tribe called Quest came with an idea, our MC Posdnuos took it in the studio, looped it up, and arranged it, and Afrika Baby Bam from Jungle Brothers went in the booth on it, and that's really the birth of Native Tongues [hip-hop movement], globally. If anybody can prove me wrong, I'll humbly fall back. But the first remix with completely changed music was us.
And now everybody does them.
It became something competitive between record companies to help sell product.
What was going on with you as the album came out?
I was still in high school, doing press and promotion, faxing in my homework from the road, going back to school on Monday. It was very tough. Doing shows around NYC, the Boston area, and Texas, sometimes just for plane tickets and food, because we were getting love on the radio in those areas. Doing shows in Houston and Dallas with the Geto Boys, way before "Mind Playing Tricks on Me," and Sir Mix-a-Lot when he had "Posse on Broadway." It was a whole lot of promotion, a whole bunch of shows, but we ain't know what it was gonna do. It was tough. Two weeks after I graduated high school, we were on the road with LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, and the rest of everybody in hip-hop, including Special Ed, EPMD, Tone Loc, Too Short, and N.W.A., all on one bill. That's when we started to make some money.
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What kind of set do you do now?
It's a good show. At this stage in my life, I'm blessed to do it as a career. The material of yesteryear resonates based on how we're able to reflect back the energy of the audience as we perform it. Between the audience, the music, and the sound system, we're able to really tap into the years in our lives when we first made this music and when people first heard it. It's really a blessing that me and my comrades are still doing this successfully.
De La Soul. With DJs Y Not, Self Born, and Heron, plus an opening performance by the Problem Kids. Thursday, December 5. The Stage, 170 NE 38th St., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. Individual concert tickets cost $30 plus fees or a full-weekend passes cost $70 via wantickets.com. Call 305-576-9577 or visit thestagemiami.com.