De la Soul’s David Jude Jolicoeur gives Stephen Connolly the lowdown on pseudonyms, humour in hip-hop, and what it’s like to be on UCD’s curriculum

This interview was never destined to be particularly easy. Gathered around a speakerphone are David Jude Jolicoeur, one third of Long Island rap trio De la Soul, and 2&4, the French collaborators involved on the latest record. About David Jude Jolicoeur: we refer to him in this way as he was christened so. He has, however, throughout  the group’s numerous records, accrued monikers such as ‘Trugoy the Dove’ ,‘Plug 2’ and, most mystifyingly, ‘Dave’, a practice that he describes in his cavernous rumble of a voice as “a tradition, a culture among MCs, stretching as far as Afrika Bambaataa and Cold Crush.” For their latest effort, Jolicoeur and his De la Soul comrade Kevin Mercer (a.k.a Posdnuos) are recording under their Plug 1 and Plug 2 aliases as First Serve, on an album that Jolicoeur explains as following the careers of Pop and Deen, two fictional rappers who begin composing in a basement, generate attention and eventually “make it big”. The group eschewed their usual lengthy development times for a feverish three-and-a half week burst with local collaborators 2&4. The Parisian producers insisted on recording live musicians, hoping to impart some “French Coast” principles to the other two, or so they chortle.

“It feels good, 2&4 are a pleasure to work with,” Jolicoeur insists; “it feels soulful, it feels classic.” ‘Classic’ is certainly more achievable an outcome when your own catalogue comprises much of what is termed as such. De la Soul are best remembered for their debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, a part of the ‘golden era’ of hip hop, and sagely credited by those hipper than you as being a masterpiece that expanded the genre’s vocabulary. Acts like Camp Lo, Biggie Smalls, Kanye West, even the bloody Black Eyed Peas owe something to its jazzy, melodic approach, and it was declared album of the year by NME in 1989, beating more customary choices such as the Stone Roses’ debut and Pixies’ Doolittle. In more recent years, they featured on Gorillaz’s ‘Feel Good Inc.’, earning a Grammy for their troubles.

Another crucial innovation of their output has been levity, a commodity frequently missing in rap, in both their lyrics and the short skits between songs on the majority of their albums. “I wouldn’t say humour is incredibly important,” Jolicoeur argues, “it’s just refreshing to hear something different. Even guys as street as Cam’ron in the Diplomats and Wu-Tang Clan can add some comedy. Maybe a group as amazing as Public Enemy may not have worked so well without the comic relief of Flavor Flav.”

One mustn’t forget that De la Soul came to prominence during the surge of gangsta rap in the late 1980s, and promoting ‘peace and love’ concepts such as the ‘D.A.I.S.Y Age’ (Da Inner Sound, Y’all) coupled with their (relative) aversion to profanity made them quite the alternative act. What does Jolicoeur make of the vein of aggression in rap that continues today in acts like Odd Future and Gucci Mane?  “I don’t think it’s a problem at all; you have to honour all aspects of rap. It just wouldn’t be right if you didn’t get angry! What’s important is whether you support nonsense or something better.” Of the oft-publicised ‘beefs’ between rappers that consume infinite column inches and vinyl grooves, Jolicoeur’s outlook is equally liberal: “I guess they can be a real issue or they can be a PR stunt too. It can certainly be something where guys realise it can help their careers and get involved for that reason, but other people can see that. Collaborations and promotion can weaken the whole thing a bit, but it’s become a game; everyone’s out to get a bigger cheque. If you want to be a part of this entity you have to accept that there are people out there to get money.”

Inevitably, whether you deem the practice ludicrous or otherwise, De la Soul’s music is intellectualised to a severe degree. Here at our own three-legged stool of learning, a module called ‘Popular Music and Culture’ analyses their contribution to rap culture, even assigning essays specifically based on the group. Otwo asked Jolicoeur how they felt about this – is this scrutiny a burden when composing? “Not at all, we just love trying to put together great music, we just hope that people make it part of their lives. That’s all it is.”

Past and present both languidly commented on, we move onto the future. Jolicoeur speaks of a desire for touring the album, and potential follow-ups. “People can see from the album that the story doesn’t [end]. We hope that people will like to see how we put rhymes to the rest of the story – this is only the beginning.”

Such statements, and references to a ‘fresh start’, cropped up repeatedly in our interview. It becomes evident that this project is perhaps a reaction to years of being tethered to a legacy, encumbered by others’ lazy expectations of their output. We put one final question to Dave: are such measures as adopting the image of a duo just starting out in a parent’s basement in Queens, the choice of location, enlisting of new producers and blitzkrieg-quick gestation all efforts to sidestep the momentum of the past, and shrug off the weight of tradition placed on your shoulders by your commentators of over twenty years? “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talkin’ about, bro.” Fair enough.

De la Soul’s Plug 1 and Plug 2 present First Serve is out on March 30th