The first time I heard De La Soul’s 1991 single “Keepin’ The Faith” I knew that I had to own turntables. The lyrics from Posdnuos and Dave (t/k/a Trugoy) about teen sex angst and good girls gone bad appealed greatly, as did Prince Paul’s supreme sample composition, but it was those scratches from Maseo that made the song my favorite from the legendary Long Island trio.
Maseo represents an endangered link in Hip Hop. He’s a deejay within a group that refuses to exist without his presence. Last year’s Gorillaz Plastic Beach Tour featured De La, and Maseo shared the stage with his emcee brothers, dancing, smiling and prodding the crowd interaction just as hard as Pos and Dave, without a verse to spit. Moreover, Mase has helped create the records, both with and since Prince Paul that have gone on to become D.A.I.S.Y. age and A.O.I. classics. The man perhaps doesn’t get the production recognition of a DJ Premier or Evil Dee, but he certainly has the catalog that eclipses most deejay-producers.
With Brooklyn Bodega’s Salute The DJ event planned for March 30, and featuring Total Eclipse and Rich Medina alongside Maseo, HipHopDX spoke to the mixmaster about his trademark abilities, the state of the art, and the secret to the group’s consistency. DX salutes Maseo, as a deejay that touched records that changed our lives.
HipHopDX: What is the state of the Hip Hop deejay right now?
Maseo: Man. I really don’t know what to say. Let me let you know what I’m experiencing: the art-form is [getting] lost. It’s kinda scary. I did a few parties here recently, and I’m watchin’ cats – these newer cats deejay strictly from the computer and the computer only. They’re not even utilizing the Serato records. They’re just deejaying straight up off the computer, internally. I was appalled. Straight up.
Then to find out that Technics has discontinued making [some models of their] turntables. At least with the 1200, I felt like that was the significant instrument to what we do. I felt like the 1200, let alone the 1210 came along, I’m like that’s the all-in-all right there. They modified to really work, to do something for deejaying, cuttin’ and scratchin’. ‘Cause I come from the years of just havin’ to put a quarter, nickel or penny on the cartridge just to get a good [no-skip surface]. Or we’d use the plastic from the Chinese food chicken wings, just to get a record to spin back. I come from all that. Now it’s being discontinued, and it’s a lil’ disheartening.
I was at South By Southwest. It’s always a pleasure to see people like [DJ] Jazzy Jeff or DJ QBert or [DJ] Z-Trip. It’s cool to see people comin’ with new ideas, who are involved with technology to save the art of deejayin’. I just hope the original artform doesn’t get lost. So by me playin’ a part in Salute The DJ or bein’ one of the people pretty much sought out to be a part of it…one, I’m honored. Two, I think it’s important. Three, deejayin’ is the backbone to Hip Hop culture. If that goes lost, we got a big problem with Hip Hop.
DX: I want to ask you about the element of surprise. De La Soul has had it in your mosaic samples, and your stage-show. I love when deejays play records you don’t expect, Z-Trip is a great example of that. Even DJ Kool Herc was lecturing in 2009 about playing John Fred & His Playboys’ “Judy In Disguise” at Bronx rec center parties. How much do you think surprising the crowd is essential to Hip Hop’s fundamentals?
Maseo: To me, it’s very important. It’s become something with me, now, that’s pretty much expected. “What is he gonna play other than what we’re used to hearin’?” I’m from the school of [DJ] Kool Herc and [Afrika] Bambaataa, so their music was always something was important to entice the audience, giving them somethin’ that they’ve never even heard before. It’s not even about what you’re playin’, it’s how you play it. What played before it? What played after it? How’d you mix it in? What time of the night did you throw it on? All of that plays an important factor. I come from that school, so I don’t know any different.
I consider myself to be the 2 am deejay, even if I’m playing at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. [I play] everything, pretty much, that radio will stay away from. All the music I play, I sought out ’cause it makes me feel good. So I’m hopin’ it makes everybody else feel good. That’s what the true art of deejay is about: delivering my flavor or my style. Especially from our era, a deejay can make you like a record that you might not ordinarily like, by the way he played it. If I actually step out on a limb and play a Lil Wayne record that I like, that no one ever heard before, [party goers can say], “I don’t really like Lil Wayne, but I like that Lil Wayne, the one that Maseo played.” There was one point where I was doing [“Get Low” by Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz] at the end of “Oooh,” to show respect for Lil Jon like that.
DX: A lot of times, when I interview emcees, I ask them about their proudest verse. With you, what’s your proudest deejay innovation or moment in your career?
Maseo: Being one of the deejays that’s still part of a group, and the fact that I deejay and I make records. I make records, as opposed to just being a deejay that just plays records that other people make. I’m like a [DJ] Premier, a Pete Rock, a [DJ] Johnny Juice, a Terminator X, Jam Master Jay, Kay Gee from Naughty By Nature, deejays of a group who actually produce records. I think that played a significant role of what I’ve done and am still doing.
DX: With most groups, there’s at least one album that’s a weak link in the catalog. With De La Soul, I don’t think that’s ever happened. Even with 2006’s The Impossible: Mission TV Series, Part 1, which was sort of a mixtape, that was outstanding. Do you think having an active deejay in the group helped in achieving that kind of consistency?
Maseo: I think it plays a very significant role, and not just ’cause I am the deejay sayin’ that. Emcees, at times, they can go so far off into their own world, where they can be a little out of touch. Then you’ve got some that’s so far into what is happening that they bite. The era that we come from, biting is forbidden. We just try to find a balance, every time we look to release something – to always be us, but be current. So we look and see what the average consumer is doin’ every day. This is just normal life. When you pay attention to normal life, you know what you need to do creatively.
If you look at De La Soul’s music, we implemented every aspect of our lives. 3 Feet High and Rising was a record that was made, before the record came out, when we was 14, 15 years old. To move up in years, we made records that were significant to our lives at that moment in time. Here it is, I’m 41 [years old]; there’s no way in hell I could make another 3 Feet High and Rising. I was 18 when that record came out. So today I’d have to make a record relevant to who I am today, how life is now. But I damn sure don’t want to look like I’m tryin’ to be 18, like I’m the old dude in the club. At the end of the day, I’m just tryin’ to find my niche. Fortunately, I’m blessed to be part of a great team where we are concerned with our creativity to the fullest.
DX: I’ve seen De La Soul perform countless shows over the years on the road. Last summer, you guys rocked the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, and Dave had a leg injury. He was mastering the ceremonies with a damn cane. You guys always work so hard, but it appears so effortless when the crowd sees the joy in your faces. Where does that come from?
Maseo: With De La, we always do this. When we’re not releasing records on a consistent basis, we still tour. Anybody in this business who’s putting out music, if they’re not adequately touring, then they’re not doing their job. If you’re puttin’ out music and you’re just relying on some entity to make your record happen and you’re just chillin’, waitin’ for the phones to light up, then you’re not really doing your job. First or foremost, I’m a professional entertainer. I have to get out and entertain the people who buy my music. That’s who I work for, ’cause that’s who puts the food on my table. Who wouldn’t want to do what they love for a living? De La Soul, yo, we love what we do. We love what we do together. I can’t see myself doin’ it with any other group of people. This is what I’ve been doin’ since I graduated high school, bro. I graduated high school, the next week I was on tour with LL Cool J. For the era that I come from with it and how it transpired for me, there’s still a major love and appreciation for what I’m doin’ today. I think that exudes every time we step on stage. We want you to look at us like you look at Kiss, Duran Duran, The Rolling Stones, all the other icons in other genres of music.
I want to say salute the deejay, all day! The deejay is the backbone of Hip Hop culture. I appreciate that I get to do this [with the Brooklyn Bodega]. Definitely Rich Medina and Total Eclipse [are] two incredible deejays; [we have] three different styles. I’m your supreme, party-rockin’ 2 am deejay who still produces records [laughing], ’cause that’s who I am. Look out for the group, look out for new De La stuff, and look out for my man Bill Ray.