A sure way to annoy many veteran musicians is to highlight their age. Not so with De La Soul, once considered the future of hip-hop and again making music.
Playing for an enthusiastic crowd at New York’s Governors Ball festival on Saturday, the trio immediately asked for a show of hands on how many people were under 30.
To the millennial camp, which was roughly half the audience, 46-year-old DJ Vincent Mason declared: “I love your energy. But you’re going to learn some (stuff) today.”
De La Soul won acclaim in 1989 with its debut album “3 Feet High and Rising.” In contrast to the hard-edged rap about street life that had stormed onto the US cultural landscape, De La Soul brought in smooth beats and subtly ironic samples, a sound influenced more by their suburban upbringing on New York’s Long Island.
The trio politely worked the crowd into a sea of arm-waving and performed its best-known track, the wry, chill-vibe “Me Myself and I.”
But De La Soul is not seeking to be simply a nostalgia act. After watching its fortunes fade amid the rise of testosterone-driven gangsta rap, the trio last year appealed to fans to help fund a new album.
The trio met its $110,000 goal on crowdfunding site Kickstarter within hours and ultimately generated more than $600,000 to make the album, “And the Anonymous Nobody,” which will come out on August 26.
The recently released first track, “Pain,” builds off a smooth funk beat with a touch of Philadelphia soul and features Snoop Dogg, who has long moved on from his rough gangsta rap roots to gentler sounds.
Other stars who will appear on the album include Talking Heads legend David Byrne, Britpop leading light Damon Albarn of Blur fame, R&B star Usher and Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz.
At Governors Ball, De La Soul offered another taste of the album with the track “Trainwreck,” keeping with a dominant bass interspersed with gentle percussion.
– Anti-Trump messages –
Charting a similar path to De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest was perhaps the biggest force in creating an alternative hip-hop scene. Group member Phife Dawg died in March from complications of diabetes, one of a string of deaths in the music world this year.
Wyclef Jean of another legendary hip-hop group, the Fugees, paid tribute to Phife Dawg during a surprise appearance with electronic duo The Knocks, rapping a dance mash-up of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?”
The death of pop icon Prince also loomed large over the festival for a second day. Haim, the California pop band of three sisters, offered a largely by-the-book cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” while rapper Mac Miller simply played a recording of the song “Purple Rain” and asked the crowd to sing along as the stage lit up in the title color.
Miller had won praise in 2011 from Donald Trump after the white rapper wrote a song about the billionaire, using the tycoon’s name as a metaphor for wealth.
But Miller has become a vociferous critic as Trump seeks the presidency and, toward the end of his bass-heavy set, Miller led the crowd in a chant of an obscenity against the Republican candidate.
– Last day rained out –
Indie pop band MisterWives offered a similar message without the profanity, with singer Mandy Lee vowing to work to avoid “racist, homophobic” leadership.
She did not mention the candidate by name, but said, “Love trumps hate.”
Governors Ball had been due to see a major dose of anti-Trump activism Sunday with an appearance, announced only the day before, of Prophets of Rage, the new supergroup with members of Rage Against the Machine and Chuck D of rap legends Public Enemy.
But Governors Ball canceled the third and final day due to the threat of severe thunderstorms. Intermittent rain Saturday already created pools of mud.
Sunday’s headliner was to have been Kanye West, the ever-in-the-news rap superstar who would have put on one of his first shows since his album “The Life of Pablo” came out in February.
The cancelation comes as a second festival — Panorama, run by the promoters of California’s lucrative Coachella — is set to debut next month at Randall’s Island despite objections from six-year-old Governors Ball.