An Interview with De La Soul’s Dave Jude Jolicoeur, a.k.a. Trugoy the Dove
As we eagerly slip on our headphones to listen to De La Soul’s Kickstarter-funded And the Anonymous Nobody, out today, we’re revisiting this 2015 interview with De La Soul’s Dave Jude Jolicoeur.
Hip-hop can be tricky. The genre is about perpetual forward movement, and it’s easy for artists to move from legendary to forgotten in no time at all. De La Soul have avoided that their entire career, perpetually reinventing themselves and exploring new territory even as they stay true to who they are as musicians. From their debut LP, Three Feet High and Rising, to today, the trio has consistently changed the way we think about music and pioneered new ways of making albums through off-kilter concepts and tonal shifts.
When they launched their Kickstarter project to fund their new album, we knew it’d do well, but we couldn’t have predicted this magnitude of success. Here was a legendary group notorious for their willingness to experiment, taking a huge risk, putting the existence of their next record in the hands of their fans. Now, as their time on Kickstarter winds down, we spoke to Dave Jude Jolicoeur — who you may also know as Trugoy the Dove or Plug Two, depending on where your entry point into the De La Soul catalogue happens to be — about the group’s past, the music industry, and what they’re up to now.
— Sam Hockley-Smith
Do you remember the first time in your career with De La Soul when you thought, “Hey, maybe the music industry isn’t working for me.”
Yeah. It was around the second album. As soon as we entered the cycle of the second album we kind of felt like, everybody is obviously excited about the next step on the heels of the success of Three Feet High and Rising. Going into De La Soul is Dead, that’s when the business began. It kinda started feeling like it wasn’t a situation where you could just sit and be creative and bring ideas that you were excited about. I don’t know if the music business is what I love. I love music.
Throughout De La Soul’s history you guys have always reacted. ‘De La Soul is Dead’ was a reaction to the perception that you were hippies on ‘Three Feet High and Rising.’ ‘Stakes is High’ always felt to me like a reaction to the darker turn that rap had taken.
I think that’s how we approach music to an extent. It is a reaction. Absolutely. De La Soul is Dead was a backlash of feeling that way about the industry. About how our art was being compromised. I think people’s point of view of what we were trying to do — it seemed as if they were pointing their hands at us like, these guys are basically here to represent something that we believe that they are, and they’re going to act the way we think they’re supposed to. It was like, no, that’s not who we are. It’s not what we’re doing, and it’s not what we feel. You feel emotional when things happen inside, and we just gotta let it out through music.
So major labels wanted to control the De La Soul narrative once they realized they could profit from what you guys were doing? It seems like you guys have spent a lot of your career working around that.
Pretty much. It wasn’t as if it was our mantra or anything. It was just one of those things, out of the innocence of being kids and making music. That’s how Three Feet High and Rising happened. It was just like, this is how we made music, and we made music because we made music. It wasn’t anything contrived or anything. Falling into that bracket of, well we’re not here to make music, we’re here to make money. That was kind of wack. Although we love to make money.
“I don’t know if the music business is what I love. I love music.”
So you had to deal with the business side more than you wanted to?
It was great to embrace the business side. It was nice to begin to learn so much about the music business, even in the studio. There was a time when we were just students and the engineer did everything and pushed all the buttons and recorded and etcetera. We began to learn from the engineers that opened up to us and said, well, this is what this does and this does. That was cool, but I guess the part about selling a project was a little weird and off, because it imposed and stuck its hands in the creative process. It was a lesson though. We definitely learned that it is a business.
Was there a point where you thought, “I can’t do this the way it is anymore. I need to figure out an alternative method”?
Yeah, absolutely. We were unfortunately bound to a contract that was maybe, I don’t know, seven, eight albums long. Actually it was six or seven. When we reached the sixth album, we wanted to renegotiate. I guess being young at the time, being frustrated — you felt like all the work we put into it… we weren’t being compensated fairly. I think when we renegotiated we negotiated for better rates, better money, better advances. That might have made us feel good for a little while.
It became frustrating again realizing that money doesn’t change the situation. Recording the Bionix albums, that’s when we were like, we want this to stop. How do we find a way out of this? How do we get out of this? By chance, we were lucky. We were one of the groups where the label was dealing with its own situations that were tough for them. The label was snatched by its parent company and that began the process of where De La goes, and finally to De La is released, and we were on our own independently, which felt really good.
You guys were able to successfully navigate the music industry in a way that a lot of your peers weren’t able to do. What is it about De La Soul that you were able to stay relevant?
I don’t know. I can’t put a finger on it. I know the people that we are. We don’t allow the industry or the lights or glamor or whatever it may be to get in the way of our focus. Our focus is simply making good music. I don’t know if that’s everyone’s focus, if that is the root to longevity. Being able to find our way into this wonderful place we’re in right now.
Our focus was never anything else but the music. Of course, again, we are earning a living and we want to do business accordingly and reap from all that we’ve created. But at the same time, the creation of it was first and foremost important. We weren’t running to do commercials and movies and running to be in L.A. and hang out in Hollywood or whatever the case may be. A lot of our peers were running around because it seemed bigger than life and it seemed like it was taking them to different places and then ignoring the music aspect of it all. Ignoring the bond between band members, the legacy you’re building, and the fans who support you. Those things were always more important to us. Even if it was through fear.
I know there were times when we were like, “I don’t know, man. I don’t know if we can pull it off.” We always poked and judged ourselves and critiqued ourselves before even heading out into those lanes. Most of the time we knew we were making this music. Concentrating on that first has always been most important, and maybe that’s why we’re still here. The music, if anything, is what led us to this path, so why go off of it when we know why we’re here?
These days, it’s no big deal for a young musician in any genre to self-produce and release their album on Bandcamp or a mixtape site, but with more established artists, it seems like there’s a bit of a stigma. When you decided to use Kickstarter, were you concerned about the perception that people would have?
We thought about it, but I don’t think it was ever a worry. We were more worried about — we’ve spoken to different artists and in most cases they’ve expressed the same thing: “We would love to do that,” “We were thinking about doing that but we don’t want anybody looking at us like we’re broke or we’re asking for a handout.” That perception is huge for artists and rappers especially. You don’t want to seem like you’re broke and you don’t want to seem like you’re old or played out or what have you.
For us, it was more about — we don’t want to seem greedy. We’ve fought for some time trying to figure out what to put as our goal. We’re working with these numbers, but does that sound like we’re being greedy? We don’t want to come off like we’re begging or anything like that. The idea of Kickstarter and funding this album via our fans was beautiful. That was amazing. That was like, wow we could do that? Hell yeah, let’s do that.
“We don’t allow the industry or the lights or glamor or whatever it may be to get in the way of our focus. Our focus is simply making good music.”
Was the album mostly done when you launched the Kickstarter campaign?
No. We’ve actually been working on it a lot. What was done more was the music with the band. A lot of that was done. Sitting down, jam sessions day after day after day, compiling a library of music. That was pretty much 85 percent of the way done. Within the last three months we started working on things. Of course, while we were in the studio we had ideas. Stuff sounded cool. For the most part we started to really dig into working on this record in maybe February or so. It’s been a three-year process. We’d go to L.A., stay a week, week and a half, go home, go back to L.A., stay two weeks. All of that was pretty much recording jam sessions and compiling those two hundred-plus hours of music.
You guys also released your back catalogue for free for a little while. That’s a big move for an established artist to make. Why did you do that?
A big part of it was trying to find something creative to do for our twenty-fifth anniversary. I guess included with the idea of our music not being available to most, we thought that would be the best gift after twenty-five years. And sort of a statement to say that we’re frustrated. I’m hoping that’s what people can see on the flip side of maybe receiving a great gift. We’re frustrated. I think we’ve been going through litigations for about two and a half years now, trying to make this thing work. How do we get all parties involved to clarify and clear samples and put the right language in contracts in order to get this music out there — that’s what it was really about. It was birthed out of being creative for our twenty-fifth. You know, let’s put all our catalogue for twenty-five hours on the internet and let people just take it. I think attached to that also was wanting to say, “Damn it, this is crazy that people can’t get it.”
I wanted to ask about the album title, ‘And the Anonymous Nobody.’ The title speaks to the people that were behind the scenes. The band, the engineers, the fans — it seems like it’s about taking these often under the radar people and pushing them forward.
I think in the days of De La Soul in the early stages, we were always the band that brought people out. People that we felt like were special or had something to contribute. Whether it was Truth Enola or Indeed or Common Sense or Mos Def, who became huge artists themselves. We’ve always felt like we want to set a stage for people who are in this for real. Who really have a love and appreciation for just giving, giving their best and giving their talent. It does go across all topics here. Whether it’s the fan who feels like he wants to give and feel a part of this, to the musicians, in some case those who haven’t been paid, who are just on the ride because they’re proud of what we’re doing.
Was this the first De La Soul album where you were able to have complete control?
You’re talking about 100 percent? Yeah, definitely. It’s reminiscent of Three Feet High and Rising. The innocence of walking into a room or a stage, and not really knowing what you’re doing or how you’re going to do this and saying, “Screw it. I got a load of people here who feel like I do, and we’re just going to make our mistakes together and that’s what it’s going to be.” That’s what this feels like. It’s a good feeling knowing that it’s a new beginning. Kickstarter is an element of that idea. We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re just out there making this happen and hoping it’ll be successful.
That seems like it could be a creatively revitalizing moment.
Absolutely. It’s obviously sampling, but the stages in which we’re taking are different and new. We could just have a whole bunch of junk, just a bunch of pots and pans and strings being plucked. But we’re trying to use our heads and our brains and take what these cool musicians have done and approach this thing like we did on Three Feet High and Rising: with innocence. It feels good getting back in the studio. This is probably the first time in the last 15 years that I’ve gone back to producing. For the most part, we’ve been writing a lot. Writing for side projects and other projects. But to actually sit down and chop loops up and breakbeats and so on. It’s the first time I’ve been producing in the last fifteen years, and it’s a great feeling.
Why weren’t you producing for so long?
I think it was basically not feeling anything new happening. Not feeling like we were on to something or feeling so great about hip-hop. I think the last fifteen years might have been like, okay, let me get my pennies in order. I’ve got some things in life I’d like to do. I’ve got a kid in college. Concentrating on making life as comfortable as I can for myself and my family. It’s been a lot of, let’s write, let’s do this project here and write for this, and lets write for this person. That was a bit easier. That was a bit more comfortable as well. This whole step we’re taking into the Anonymous Nobody project just feels great. We have something for real, and that confidence and ambition to get it going has been there. So back in the lab. Let’s produce.