Interview and photo Kelvin Mercer
De La Soul will release the new album And the Anonymous Nobody on August 26, the first full-length from the Long Island trio in 12 years. In anticipation of this new music, we are publishing articles and artifacts from Frank151‘s Chapter 37, the print edition that was curated by the group. The goal is to introduce new listeners to De La Soul as well as offer new insights for longtime fans of these hip-hop legends.
When a group’s full-length debut is both as good and as groundbreaking as De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, fans want to know, “Who are your influences?” Aside from a collection of sonic ancestors and the occasional piece of literature, many artists credit their parents as the motivating force in their music.
Kelvin Mercer, also known as Posdnuos, spoke with Garland Mercer, his father and main influence, about Garland’s childhood and other Mercer family history.
Kelvin Mercer: Where were you born?
Garland Mercer: I was born in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina.
KM: How many brothers and sisters were there?
GM: I had seven brothers and four sisters.
KM: How was it for you growing up in North Carolina?
GM: Growing up for me in North Carolina was nice,. Our parents were very nice to us and everything like that. We didn’t have the best, but we had love.
KM: Yeah. I’m sure. And in the area where you were growing up, was there a lot of racism, or was it a predominantly Black area?
KM: So it was more Black?
KM: Dad, you are the person that introduced me to music. I remember being really young and always wanting to stand by you while you played your records. And I remember not only listening to you play your records, but I would watch. I used to love how you would stack all the records up on the hi-fi and let that little black thing hold all the records and watch the records drop. So while Junior, Lucious, and Tyrone were playing, I used to always love standing by you. I really remember that being my first time of loving music. So I wanted to know, can you remember the first time when you were introduced to music?
GM: I just loved it. When I was a child, I loved to sing, whether I could do it the best or not. I loved all the latest rock & roll, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, B.B. King, all them.
KM: So it was more from hearing it on the radio? From your older brothers?
GM: Yes. I’d hear it on the radio, and then I started buying the tapes and everything like that.
KM: At a very young age from hearing you sing around the house and of course sing in church, I always knew you had a really great voice. Did you ever have dreams to be a singer? Were you in a group when you were a child?
GM: When we were going to school, we used to have a group singing. And they used to tease me ’cause I was always emotional. I would always sing, “I Want to Be Loved.” That’s mostly what we sang.
KM: Were you in a group with other kids? Or like you were saying, maybe in school when they had concerts or little contests?
GM: Just in school. There was just a group of us like that.
KM: Did you sing in church?
GM: Yep. I loved to sing in church.
KM: But getting older, you never thought to yourself, “Hey, why don’t I try to really be a singer?”
GM: No. To tell you the truth, I just loved to sing, but it never came to my mind, recording like that.
KM: People always say to me that I work too hard. I know I got that from you and mom. When you were younger, was that something that came natural to you?
GM: I came up with my parents, I picked cotton. I wanted to go to school, but I had to pick cotton. I always was glad when it rained, ’cause when it rained, I couldn’t pick no cotton and I would be glad. When I went to school, the kids would tease me. When they’d say, “Garland Mercer?” “Present.” They’d say, “Oh, Garland couldn’t pick no cotton today, so he at school.” But I really wanted to go to school. I didn’t mind picking cotton. My cousin and them, they just did it ’cause they needed extra money, but we did it and gave the extra money to our father.
KM: Did y’all have a farm, similar to what ,om and her parents had?
GM: Oh no, no. We were just in town. People came past us, “Do you want to pick cotton today?” Like that.
KM: So you were picking it for someone else who owned the field, to make the money as a worker.
GM: Yes, picking cotton and also putting in tobacco.
KM: I remember playing the tape for y’all, what did you honestly first think when I told you I wanted to rap?
GM: Well Kelvin, to tell you the truth, really I gathered that it was something that you wanted to do. But I was surprised. I knew you was singing, but I thought it was the doo-wop music, like we were singing. I didn’t know until I heard you. And I was amazed, ’cause I know you used to sing when you was in church, but I was real amazed when I heard your voice.
KM: Thank you. It’s funny, ’cause growing up, listening to you sing, I did want to sing, before rap came along and touched a generation the way it touched me as a child. I always was honest with myself. I always felt like I couldn’t really sing sing. I could be in the back with the choir, but I never, ever felt like I had a great voice like you, ’cause I compared myself to that. I never felt like I could really lead, as far as singing. But of course loving to write stories as a child, when rapping came along, it was something that came about and touched me, and it was so natural for me to do, and it was our generation’s form of music. That’s why I took to it like that.
What was your opinion of rap music, compared to music that you were listening to? It can be honest. You can be like, “I hated it.”
GM: I didn’t hate it, but I said, “What is he sayin’?” But now being that I got a chance to just listen, I picked up certain tones that you were saying. But at first I didn’t understand it.
KM: When did you first meet Mom?
GM: I met her through my cousin, Aunt Louise. They stayed on 437 Manhattan Avenue. She just came by to visit. Her and a couple of her sisters, Jet and Edwina, just came by to visit one Sunday. I don’t know, but just some reason, out of all three, I looked at her and there was something about her that I liked. I don’t know whether it was love at first sight, or what.
KM: I have a lot of great memories of growing up in the Bronx. For me to be that young, I can honestly say, I remember more good times than bad times. I really didn’t realize we didn’t have a lot of money, ’cause we did so much. Y’all always made sure we went places. Outside of maybe hearing something bad or whatever, maybe a fight outside, I just can say being that young I didn’t see there were a lot of bad things around. The worst thing that I can even think is a lot of times when we would have fires in our building, and even that, from a child’s perspective, was like, “Wow! Fire engines!”
GM: We always took you places. You didn’t play downstairs. We always took you to see the Statue of Liberty, to see all different things, and what, the…
KM: Circle Line?
GM: When you got on the ship to go to Peg Leg Bay or something like that. You kept going, even though you was coming back to where we were staying and the area was not so good. But hat’s what made me feel good, that we always could take you places. We could play ball before I went to work and everything. When things started getting a little rough, people started moving out the building. Then we knew it was time to start looking, too.
KM: What made y’all stumble upon Long Island?
GM: It was a friend, Edwina, her sister. We went to visit her one time. So that’s when Tommie’s friend said something—Murc was staying out there, and Tommie went to visit, and that’s how we said, “Maybe we can.” But I didn’t think about moving, ’cause at the church, I said, “Oh Lord, I enjoy singing at the church. But if we got to go to Long Island, I don’t know whether we’re gonna be able to commute from Long Island to Manhattan.” So my pastor was telling me, he said, “Brother Mercer, I know if you leave, to come from Long Island to 118th Street and Manhattan Avenue, I can’t see you doing it. But enjoy yourself.” But I said, “No, I’m gonna be coming back.” But I never went back.