DJ Maseo has spun thousands of sets over the course of his four decades in the music business, but like the saying goes, you never forget your first.
“It was always about the sound system, so wherever the people were dancing, that’s where the speakers were,” he says. “The DJ was always in another room, so you couldn’t see who it was.”
It was his mother’s housewarming party in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and he was 11 years old, subbing briefly for the actual DJ. It was a trial by fire.
“It was, like, either rock the party or get your ass kicked, because I wasn’t supposed to be up anyway.”
DJ Maseo was born Vincent Lamont Mason, Jr. in Brooklyn on March 24, 1970, and he currently lives in Florida. He joined with childhood friends Kelvin Mercer (aka “Posdnuos”) and David Jude Jolicoeur (aka “Trugoy the Dove”) to form De La Soul in 1987. Within a year, their first single, “Plug Tunin’,” had caught the ear of the legendary Prince Paul, who helped get them signed to Tommy Boy that year (and remains a close collaborator to this day).
The group’s debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, dropped in 1989. To call it an instant classic would be an understatement. It is one of the essential hip hop recordings of all-time, a cultural signpost and a key document of what everyone acknowledges as that genre’s golden age. The track “Potholes In My Lawn” converted an entire generation of fans. De La Soul were linked with fellow alt-rap icons A Tribe Called Quest and Jungle Brothers. Together they were known as the “Native Tongues Posse,” and they flew the flag of social awareness, positivity and the proverbial good, clean fun as rap music began taking on more nihilistic overtones.
In an era when masterpieces were being dropped on an almost weekly basis for several years, De La Soul managed to not only stand out among their peers, but to assume an immediate leadership role as the music began a series of creative and commercial shifts starting in the early ‘90s. No matter what the flavor of the month might be at any given time, the trio has remained relevant without fail.
Although De La Soul remains intact (their most recent album came out just two years ago), its three members have spent significant time in pursuit of individual goals. For Maseo, that means a lot of time working as a freelance DJ, a hired gun of sorts—one with perfect aim. He’s a six-time Grammy nominee, three of which came for “Feel Good Inc.,” the lead single from fusion super-group Gorillaz (Best Pop Collaboration).
Maseo’s links to Jacksonville go back to 1989, when De La Soul opened for LL Cool J on his Nitro Tour.
“Back then it was all arena shows,” says Maseo. “It was almost like punk rock, but more extreme.”
The key link in that connection was promoter Troy McNair, who worked for Rush Management in New York when Maseo and co. joined up 30 years ago. He now runs Gangplank Management. McNair still has a pair of white Nike Air Force 1’s with a “3 Feet High and Rising” print (which of course he never wears—that would be crazy).
Having watched DJ equipment evolve with the culture itself, Maseo has made precious few concessions to time. Yes, the technology has changed. The days of lugging 11 crates of records through airports 200 nights a year ended after 9/11, when security protocols and baggage fees made it untenable. Still, the method remains the same.
“I like to keep the people dancing,” he says. “I like to make sure they’re total exhausted by the time I’m done. That’s generally the goal.”