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Won't You Be My Buddy?

Ducks paddle around the fountain in the middle of the man-made pond in the middle of the gated community in the middle of Glen Eagles Golf and Country Club in the middle of Delray Beach's opulent Villages of Oriole. While Jewish grandmothers slowly drive the streets searching for the best whitefish salad in town, Vincent Mason strolls past the pond on his way to the pool at the apartment complex and unlatches the gate. Better-known as one-third of De La Soul, Mason (a.k.a. DJ Maseo) collects a few curious stares from his neighbors as he enters the pool area. "From one suburban life to the next," he sighs. "One just has more sun than the other." Long Island, where De La Soul came up, is also mostly affluent and white. "It's nice here, it's gated, it's safe. If anything," he laughs as his big frame settles into a poolside chair, "these people worry more about me than I do about them."

Mase's worries currently include paying bills, feeding his wife and four kids, and plotting De La's future. Label-less after Tommy Boy Records folded last year, Mase, Kelvin "Posdnous" Mercer, and Dave Jolicoeur decided to gamble with the final installment of their Art Official Intelligence series, planning to drop it this August on Bear Mountain Entertainment, the label Mase operates out of a two-bedroom Delray Beach pad outfitted with laptops, a supersize vinyl collection, and a kitchen. Mase likes to eat.

"I like a healthy atmosphere for my children," he continues. "I couldn't move anywhere without their consent or approval." Mase, wearing loose-laced Timberlands, white T-shirt, and nylon parachute pants, takes off his sunglasses and squints in the brightness. Birds chirp, and the pool pump hums. It's only 11 a.m. "Awww, shit," he says with a yawn, wiping the sand from the corner of his eye. "It's tranquil. I can work here with no distractions. I'm about gettin' the job done, for the most part. Up in the major cities, I get congested. I can't think."

Bear Mountain, Mase figures, will allow De La Soul to keep more of the green generated by record sales and give the band creative autonomy after years of service to one of hip-hop's pioneer labels. "I'm no longer shackled to Tommy Boy," he states. "To be part of their legacy was a great feeling, but to see it all fall apart is really unfortunate. I would have loved to have still played for the team, but they became a major conglomerate and still wanted to play nickel-and-dime games like an independent. You lose a lot of respect doing that, especially from your peers."

Mase knows the pitfalls that might await his attempt to create "a new face for De La." The band's first album rightly occupies a permanent place in hip-hop's pantheon, but critics never slobbered over the discs that followed. The fans kept coming back, though, hoping for more of that friendly flower-power. They never really got it. "You can't say any of us are hippies," Mase says. "I didn't grow up in that era. We actually had the same subject matter as other rappers, but with more intelligence." And 2001's AOI: Bionix continues to distance De La Soul from its goody-goody beginnings.

"I'm not the same 18-year-old cat I was making 3 Feet High and Rising. A lot of that material was developed when we were, like, 15 or 16. They were ideas we were working on fresh from high school. Those were our days of innocence and ignorance, not knowing what you're doing or getting yourself into."

Mase claims he was aware of the ramifications of unauthorized samples, like the Turtles' "You Showed Me," used on 3 Feet High and Rising's minute-long skit "Transmitting Live from Mars." "That was Tommy Boy's negligence," Mase claims. "They felt like it didn't have to be cleared. Then here come the Turtles, outta nowhere, with a lawsuit. We wound up taking care of half the bill ($50,000), and Tommy Boy took care of the other half."

No matter -- 3 Feet High sold well and long enough that the settlement didn't hurt anyone. Five albums later, including the top ten success of Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, Mercer lives in Atlanta and Jolicoeur stays in Maryland, but they've flown to Florida for the party Bear Mountain's throwing tonight at Club Atlantis on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Knowing the spring break party crowd will be at its thickest, Bandwidth asks when De La will actually take the stage that evening. 11:30 or so?

"I'd say 10:30, 11," Mase replies. "We don't believe in late shows. People get tired. That's not a good thing. You have a drained audience by 2 a.m."

Yet an hour past midnight, Maseo is still DJing alone on a darkened stage. It's a school night; some of us have to work in the a.m., so we skip out without seeing the band preview its new material. "Our commitment is first to the music and second to the fans," he'd mentioned earlier. "Really, it's second to ourselves and third to the fans." He laughs. "If you wanna party late, that's up to you, but for the fans, it's an early show."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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