On Sunday, October 11, Atlanta’s A3C Festival celebrated De La Soul Day, 24 hours dedicated to the Long Island group’s 26-year history of going against the grain. As part of the four-day hip-hop fest, the agenda included an hour-long conversation with members Posdnuos, Dave and Maseo, followed by a concert of roughly two-dozen catalog-spanning numbers.
“For those who don’t know, we’re De La Soul,” Posdnuos, dressed in a black shirt and dark slacks, said at the evening’s concert. “We’ve been doing this for, uh, two days.” He doubles over from laughing.
Those who attended De La Soul Day’s keynote conversation were certainly in on the joke. At 12:45 p.m., the group walked into a conference center ballroom in downtown Atlanta to a standing ovation. Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds treated the interview as if it was another episode of their hip-hop podcast Juan Epstein, asking questions in pursuit of little-known trivia. They began by asking about De La Soul’s earliest days of recording music, traced through the formation of the (loose) alternative hip-hop collective Native Tongues. Though they have a new album on the way, the group were game to revel in their past, remembering when Biz Markie used to cut class and hang at their school. In another tale, they reminisced about when one-time manager Russell Simmons, who Maceo dubbed “the Don King of hip-hop,” told them to “suck y’all dick, man” when they considered backing out of opening for Aretha Franklin. (Translation: “You’re crazy.”)
To this room of hip-hop fans and aspiring artists, though, Dave also talked about why De La Soul still feels inspired to create, with their upcoming eighth album And the Anonymous Nobody — due out in 2016 — featuring guests ranging from David Byrne to 2 Chainz, Damon Albarn to Usher. “We are still students,” he said. “Whether it’s Young Thug or Kendrick Lamar, we learn from all of them.”
The hour-long De La Soul Day concert, held at a lot in the historic Atlanta neighborhood Old Fourth Ward, was a more balanced overview of the group’s discography so far. The group had walked out to “The Return of DST,” couched in between verses from 2004’s “The Grind.” A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg and Jarobi dropped by perform their “Check the Rhime” and Talib Kweli emerged to perform “Get By” and “The Blast” — though not before he bowed to Dave in his Pink Floyd T-shirt first. Posdnuos premiered his verse off And the Anonymous Nobody‘s “TrainWreck,” before Dave instructed Maceo to cut the hypnotic backing track off.
A3C almost had De La Soul exit the stage before the group was finished, apparently due to the neighborhood’s strict curfew. They had tried to tell Rakim the same thing, as he was late to his opening set. Once again, though, the crowd knew that if they cheered loud enough, the festival would have no choice but to let De La Soul play on. The tactic worked. From behind the DJ booth, festival director Mike Walbert held up one finger — host D.R.E.S. Tha Beatnik’s cue to let De La Soul finish.