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"What happened with us and Biz Markie [who was sued a year later for the use of a loop from Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)"] has introduced a whole new world to something that used to be a non-issue," he says. "I still can't believe how quickly it's gone from being an essential part of the music to this huge question of art vs. stealing; we just wanted to make music, ya know? This was never about money for us."
No, it's about respect, and Mercer, Jolicoeur and Mason are still fighting for it--if not musically, then in the way they create that music. "Sampling's going to be here forever, and it will be always there for us; it's elemental to our music," says Mercer. "For us, it's cool and challenging to be able to put on a good record, then dice it up and play with it; awe're not simply looping some bass line."
Mercer stops about two breaths away from taking a swipe at boastful, sample-free producers like Swizz Beatz and collects himself. "These South and West Coast artists who are going heavy on the synthesizer stuff--you're seeing cats find an easier way to make records and save money, but I don't think that makes them more 'artistic' than folks like us who sample. I mean, most rappers aren't musically inclined in the sense that they can play instruments, but can you honestly look at Q-Tip or Pete Rock or De La and say, 'Those cats have no skills?' Hell no."
Perhaps it's the struggle, then, that gives the trio its natural, congenial attitude; battling dwindling sales, heavy competition, and the heavy weight of the past, you'd think, to mangle their well-worn phrase, stakes would be high, too high. Instead, here are three fathers, three grown men spoofing The Wizard of Oz in the video for first single "Oooh," reshaping the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" into an ice-cream-truck cute "Thru Ya City," even--and this could be the most humorous--praising Eminem, if only slightly. Mercer even switches gears on the sampling question, responding to the requisite Puff Daddy question with more of a punch line than a philosophy: "I'll tell you this: De La ain't never paying anyone a million dollars for no sample." He laughs. Hard. And that's all he has to say about it.
In fact, the only thing Mercer has left to say is, as always, not to count De La Soul out just yet. That his group will probably have little chance of properly following up such a gargantuan effort (at least in hip-hop terms) is of little concern to him or his bandmates; none of them has heard one good reason why the band shouldn't keep chipping away, much less retire. Mental Rinse is next, the still-untitled third part is in the works, the band has renewed its contract with Tommy Boy, and--you heard it here first--another record with Prince Paul is in the planning stages. "Believe me, we're still going to be here," Mercer says.
And, of course, he laughs.