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Friday, Oct. 6, 2006


Old school rappers look to new schools

Special to The Japan Times

Since hip-hop emerged in the late 1970s, it's been closely linked with basketball. But just as the United States is no longer the dominant force in international hoops, its dominance in the world of beats and rhymes is also waning.

News photo
De La Soul's Posdnuos (left) and Trugoy the Dove (center) will headline this weekend's Sonarsound festival at Ebisu Garden Hall.

Much of the new mainstream U.S. hip-hop values style over substance, making one of music's most exciting forms often sound tired and generic. Like basketball, though, the one bright spot has been the burgeoning international scene, which tends to focus more on execution than flash.

For nearly 20 years, New York-based trio De La Soul have expanded the boundaries of hip-hop and embraced talented peers, regardless of their origin, with open arms. They have a soft spot for Japan's rap underground, having invited the trio Scha Dara Parr to appear on their 1993 album "Buhloone Mindstate" and guesting on DJ Honda's 1998 effort "HII." Recently, they've been collaborating with DJ Muro on a new recording by the turntabalist.

"Global hip-hop is much needed to continue the growth of the genre," says De La Soul's Posdnuos (born Kelvin Mercer) in an e-mail interview with The Japan Times from a tour stop in Greece. "We listen to all forms of hip-hop from different countries. The language may be different between American and international hip-hop, but our vibe, anger and happiness are all the same."

De La Soul's longevity can be attributed to their refusal to follow trends. Since 1989's brilliant album "3 Feet High and Rising," the act's eclectic brand of hip-hop has presented an alternative to the gangsta rap-dominated '90s and bling-encrusted 2000s. Posdnuos and Trugoy the Dove (David Jude Jolicouer) write witty, intricate rhymes that are interjected with positivity and humor, as opposed to the profanity and violence that has become rap's calling card. DJ Pasemaster Mase (Vincent Mason) brings it all together with fresh, funky mixes that encompass numerous genres.

"We don't fit, which is why we are a timeless group," says Posdnuos. "We can adapt to any portion of the world and era of music because we don't try to fit in, but still find common ground with other artists."

Although well respected, over the years their commercial popularity has faltered at home. But continual overseas touring has cemented a worldwide following for their old-school style. Currently promoting "The Impossible Mission Mixtape," an album of new and previously unreleased cuts, the group are headlining this weekend's Sonarsound Festival in Tokyo before dates in Australia, Hungary and Brazil.

Posdnuos admits that De La Soul are influenced by the scenes they come across. "We don't look at ourselves as teachers, but more as students. We realize that fans observe what we do, but we do the same to other artists both old and new."

The group are currently performing without Pasemaster Mase, who was been sidelined due to liver problems. Posdnuos confirms that Mase is getting better, but has not yet been cleared by doctors to travel.

Now in their late-30s, De La Soul are at an interesting point in their career. After being on Tommy Boy Records for more than a decade they signed with a new "urban" division of Sanctuary Records run by Mathew Knowles (father of Beyonce). Parting ways after one disc, 2004's "The Grind Date," the group are considering remaining independent for future recordings.

So what about the issue of their ages? Like b-ball, being a B-Boy is considered a young man's game.

"If other artists truly respect their own talent and hip-hop and stop treating our culture as if it is disposable, you will see people doing it way into their 50s and 60s," Posdnuos says. "It will be interesting to see some of the gangsta dudes pop some hardcore stuff when they are older, but if rock and punk groups can do it, why can't hip-hop?"

As for De La Soul, Posdnuos is still brimming with creativity and has no intention of putting away his mic.

"If my career ended tomorrow, I would feel I still hadn't done enough. There are still great, beautiful, and prolific things we haven't exposed to the fullest through our music. There is still so much in us to be heard."

Sonarsound Tokyo, with De La Soul, DJ Kentaro and more, is on Oct. 7-9 at Ebisu Garden Hall. For more information, visit www.sonarsound.jp

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