Seizing The D.E.Y.

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The once-monumental trio that was The Fugees has long been in shambles, but it's one heckuva blueprint to follow, sans the subsequent personality clashes, psychological warfare, and inevitably checkered solo careers.

Enter The D.E.Y.

With a makeup and style similar to that of the Fugees--with a Latino twist--and the chops to back it up, the bilingual trio of Puerto Rican vocalist Yeyo, Nicaraguan emcee Divine, and Bronx-bred songstress Elan Luz Rivera has been generating a heap of buzz in recent months.

MTV named the group a top "Discover & Download" act, while Entertainment Weekly named it one of its "Top 10 for 2008." Epic Records plans to release the group's Latin/pop/urban fusion debut, The D.E.Y. Has Come in April.

Yeyo, Divine, and a voiceless Elan spoke to MP3.com about their backgrounds, how they came together, and their plans to take over urban music in 2008.

MP3: Hey, guys. Yeyo: What's going on, Jim? How you doing? Yeyo: Everything's good. How about you? Not too bad. Not too bad. Thanks for doing this. I appreciate it. Yeyo: Thanks to you for giving us the opportunity, man. Absolutely. So I wanted to start at the beginning where you guys each connected. It sounds like, Divine, you and Yeyo met in Puerto Rico around '98 or so? Yeyo: That's right. How did you guys connect? Divine: Well, basically [some people] robbed my grandmother's house of everything, from mattresses to spoons while she was out doing her routine. At the time, I was pursuing my music career and I was sure I wanted to work in the arts. I had to stop doing everything because this was devastating to her and I was old enough to go and kind of help her out.

So I went out there. I moved out there, and I just started continuing to write, but then I started writing more in Spanish. And then I heard Yeyo's joint and I fell in love with it and I was like, "I've got to meet him." And through battling people in Puerto Rico, I wound up meeting him. And people thought that we were going to destroy each other, but we came together.
Okay. And what sealed the deal that made you know that you wanted to work with him? Divine: The song that he had called "Viequez" which was around what was going on [at the Vieques US Naval base in Puerto Rico]. Sure. Yeah, the protests. And there was a death in '99, right? Divine: Yeah, that's right. And the beauty of it was that he wasn't really just trying to bash what was going on [with them]. It was coming from more of an anger. Like, just stop doing this, man, because you're destroying our island. Right. And the two of you recorded the song "El Que Se Pica" almost right away after meeting. Is that right? Divine: That's right. We did that joint, "El Que Se Pica." It's like a red-hot chili pepper. If you eat a chili pepper then it's going to burn. If the shoe fits, wear it, type of thing. OK. And the two of you connected with Elan in 2005. Is that right? Yeyo: That's correct. How did that come about? Was that through management? Yeyo: That was through a mutual friend of all of ours. He had approached Divine and told him, "Look, man, I've got this girl. I think if you guys put her into the equation it will just take you all to the next level and it will be something like a Latin Fugees-type deal." Got you. Now, each of you have had experiences in the last five to seven years that seem to kind of have helped you form into the artist you've become. I wanted to ask Elan first. You had a role in The Capeman, Paul Simon's musical, back in '99 when you were just 16 years old. What was that experience like for you working with Paul Simon, Marc Anthony and Ruben Blades? Yeyo: I'm going to answer for her because she's writing them down. She lost her voice, so she's going to write them down and I'm going to answer for her. All right? All right. That sounds fine. Yeyo: She said it was incredible and it gave her a base for this group. And salsa music. It introduced her to her Latin side that she hadn't really discovered before that.

Divine: She was over there working with Marc Anthony. A lot of the strong, powerful Puerto Rican community was involved in, like, putting that body of work together.
Right. Helped her connect with that part of her heritage and that part of her kind of talent and that kind of thing. Yeyo: Definitely. She got to work with musicians that are part of Marc Anthony's band that actually got to work with us in the album. They are in our song called "Bendicita Mi Nacion." It's available in our EP right now on iTunes. That's his band, right? Yeyo: Yes, sir. The whole song was played by his band--all the instruments. Real cool. Now, Divine, you worked with and wrote for Yerba Buena, a very multi-cultural band if there ever was one. What did you learn in working with Andres Levin? Divine: First and foremost, man, Andres has a great musical ear as far as fusion is concerned. When me and him were introduced to each other, he knew what I was doing in the underground, rapping in Spanish and English. And when he presented ["Guajira"] to me, it was like, "Yo, D, this is not just only an Afro-Cuban band but also an Afro-Cuban hip-hop band, and you represent that hip-hop element. I would love you to be a part of this."

So it was a great experience. I learned how to work with a band, and a lot of these band members have gone on to even participate and work with us, you know, so that keeps work for everybody. And it was a beautiful thing being nominated for a Grammy with the body of work and seeing that move on and showing and proving that us young people can do mature Latin fusion music.
Right. Now, I know you're doing your own thing now, but what is Yerba Buena is up to these days? Are they still making music and staying together or working on different projects and that kind of thing? Divine: Well, Chino from Yerba Buena is actively working with us now. He's on one of our songs. And [vocalist] Xiomara [Laugart] went on to work on Broadway. And then Andres Levin, he's doing the movie thing now, doing scores for big movies like the Hector Lavoe movie and other movies that he's participating in. Real cool. OK. Now, Yeyo, it seems like one of the most important moments for you along the way was the death of the US Navy employee at Vieques and the protest that followed. And you wrote a song about it which obviously helped you connect with Divine and that kind of thing. Was that a moment when incorporating a socially conscious element to your writing became really important? Yeyo: Well, it has always been a part of my writing. I'm a descendant of [legendary Cuban poet] Jose Marti. He was a very popular, influential writer not just for Cuba but for Latin America. So ever since I was young and I started writing poetry, my father and my mother have been instilling in me that I have to be responsible for what I write. Because of that, I'm making sure that what I'm recording is decent and something that will help.

I wanted to be a part of history. I didn't just want to be out there making music if it didn't mean nothing. And I felt like that was something that was historical that was happening to my island and my people and I wasn't down with it. And I wanted to make sure that I could be a part in any way that I could to make sure that, you know, my land was respected, because Vieques is a national treasure to us. You need to respect what we value as a national treasure which is just an island.
Right. Of course. And you don't want to feel like you're recording what you're doing in a vacuum when all this is going on right around you and you're living it and seeing it every day and that kind of thing. Yeyo: Exactly. I felt so important and I was doing something so valuable to my community. It was really getting violent and people were really protesting and really going to the front lines and just burning stuff up and throwing rocks at the military. And I never agreed with that. I never thought that that was something useful. I wanted to be part of a peaceful protest. I wanted to be part of something that didn't involve violence.

And the elders and the big people that were involved in that movement would always keep me away from that. And it was like, "We need you to talk to the kids. We don't need you in here with all this craziness. We want you just to stay focused and just stay doing the music because the music empowers the kids a lot."

And it really did. Even now people come up to me like, "Look, man, I appreciate you taking your time to do that song because it really opened my eyes and opened a lot of people's eyes to the situation."
Very cool. Do each of you feel at ease finding that balance between having a socially conscious message but still having enough bounce in the music that people will listen to it and gravitate to it and that kind of thing? Yeyo: Before I answer that, Elan wants a correction. She was 13 when she was in The Capeman. OK. Yeyo: And in terms of conscience, Divine always said that it's being aware. Being conscious is being aware of your surroundings and what's going on. And that's basically the extent of our music. We just express what's happening around us, and we never try to push a message or be pushy or preachy. I'm speaking for myself. I was a very rebellious teenager--a very rebellious child. And I know whenever my father and my mother was like, "Yo, don't do this," that's exactly what I wanted to do.

So we learned from that and we don't really want to do that to music. Do you know what I'm saying? We want to be more relatable. When you listen to it, you can be like, "Damn, I've been in that situation," and identify with it more than just be like, "Who's this guy? He's trying to teach me something?"
Yeah. Now, you know, today's music market--especially the urban music market--is as fickle as ever. Are you guys confident that you can break through despite not being like a Soulja Boy that has a dance everyone will try to copy or a ringtone-ready beat that everyone wants to listen to on their cell phone or anything like that? Yeyo: You know what? We're all about longevity. Yeah, we were thinking of longevity when we were doing this album, man. We wanted to make sure that this album was a classic body of work and not just, like, the flavor of the moment type of thing. And we were really interested in bringing not just culture and heritage but music. That's why our first single is inspired by "Fantasy" from Earth, Wind and Fire. We want to not just cross the Latin and the American market and unite all these people. We want to cross the age differences too. We want to make sure that the young people and the old people got something to vibe to at the same time. OK. It sounds like it's more important to maybe sell more copies of your third record than it is to sell them right now and become the latest fad and that kind of thing. Yeyo: Yeah. We want to make sure that we're going to be able to continue putting out records, and we want the whole world to be our audience. It's like we don't want to target just, like, a certain area or a certain crowd. You understand? We want to make sure the world is our audience. So that's why this body of work has so many different styles and genres and themes inside this one album. Absolutely. Do you guys plan to take The D.E.Y. Has Come on tour? Divine: Oh, hell, yeah.

Yeyo: Definitely. Right now, you know, we just put out The D.E.Y. Has Come on EP on iTunes and all these online stores for download. And then, like, we just put out our single for "Give You the World" and the video. It just got picked up on VH1, MTV, BET. So right now we're just going on this radio promo tour and making sure that everybody gets to hear the song and gets to know who the D.E.Y. is before we just go onto this next stage.
Got you. Well, I wish the three of you luck in the next few months, and hopefully we can catch you on the road some time later this year or something. Yeyo: Yeah. Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate that. Divine: Thank you. And you can get at us at, you know, thedey.com, you know, for more information for the world to know. Also on MySpace. And our single "Give You the World" EP is available on iTunes, Rhapsody, Wal-Mart, you know. Right on. I appreciate the time. It was good talking to you guys. Divine: Thank you. All right. Thanks a lot. Divine: All right. Bye. Have a great day, all right? You, too. Bye.

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