July 23, 2008

De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)


So, three guys (Kelvin Mercer, David Jolicoeur, and Vincent Mason) formed a rap crew in high school, calling themselves De La Soul ("from the soul"). Their demo tape, featuring a song called "Plug Tunin'", found its way into the hands of one of my favoritest producers ever, Prince Paul Huston, and the four men quickly created what is considered to be one of the greatest hip hop debuts of all time in 3 Feet High and Rising.

The title was jacked from some Johnny Cash lyrics, but otherwise 3 Feet High and Rising is both entirely original in its composition (with the use of highly unorthodox samples and ridiculous skits as a partial framing device) and derivative (thanks to all of the samples). Or, at least it sounds that way today, considering the fact that De La opted to work without Paul in their pocket a long time ago, and folks may be more used to them spitting over more conventional beats. Posdnuos, Trugoy the Dove, and Maseo (as they would soon become in the rap world) became known for their positive lyrics in a overly negative world (well, Pos and Trugoy more so, since Maseo is more the crew's deejay than a rapper, although that hasn't stopped him before), so, of course, this means that they were labeled as fucking hippies, a term that they probably hate as much as I do.

The lyricism in general landed the crew a spot in the Native Tongues collective, which also featured the like-minded rappers in A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers (before they went all "house" on us). 3 Feet High and Rising was met with all sorts of critical acclaim and sold tons of copies, a feat which the group was never able to repeat, regardless of how many albums they've had a hand in creating. This is one of the classics, folks, although that doesn't automatically mean it'll hold up today.

Just like with my Tribe experience, this was not the first De La Soul disc I picked up. It was actually Stakes Is High, an album which I'm sure is held in high regard with some of my two readers out there. After picking that up, I went through a completely unrelated Prince Paul phase, having recently discovered that he produced their first three albums, and after remaining stagnant for several years, decided to pick them up. My copy of 3 Feet High and Rising was picked up at a Best Buy in a deluxe package Tommy Boy Records put out, with a bonus disc containing a lot of random outtakes, B-sides, and unused skits (but, oddly, not the remix to "Buddy" that's so fucking popular). However, I have no idea where the second disc is right now, so all you folks will get is the original album.

So there.

1. INTRO
The questions posed on Prince Paul's ridiculous game show introductory skit get me every time. But, to be honest, the joke gets old very quickly.

2. THE MAGIC NUMBER
As an opening song, kind of weird, and corny as hell, but at the same time wholly representative of what De La was bringing to the table. Yes, the song starts off with some Sesame Street-ish sing-songy shit, but so what?

3. CHANGE IN SPEAK
Personally, I feel that this track would have worked better as the first true song on here.

4. COOL BREEZE ON THE ROCKS
Although he was never officially part of the group, Prince Paul uses his DJ hands to make an effective argument for inclusion.

5. CAN U KEEP A SECRET
I thought this skit/interlude was funny, but I can see how it would turn off today's rap audience. Press on, my two readers.

6. JENIFA TAUGHT ME (DERWIN'S REVENGE)
See? If you hadn't pressed on, you wouldn't have heard De La's take on the mandatory sex rap. Thanks to the inherent sense of humor present all over 3 Feet High and Rising, this isn't as embarrassing to listen to as some of these other "artists" out there.

7. GHETTO THANG
I'm more impressed with the fact that this song was apparently written by Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest. Otherwise, this song kind of sucks balls. Then again, the liner notes are pretty fucked up anyway, so it's entirely possible that Kamaal had nothing to do with this song, and in that case, it would suck balls on its own accord. Whatever.

8. TRANSMITTING LIVE FROM MARS
Also known as "the skit that got De La Soul sued". The Turtles went after the group (several years after the release of this disc, if I remember correctly) for their unauthorized sampling of their "You Showed Me" (which is a good song by itself, by the way, even if the Turtles didn't actually write it themselves), and De La's songs haven't sounded the same since.

9. EYE KNOW
This is enjoyable as hell.

10. TAKE IT OFF
You may feel compelled to listen to this entire glorified skit in order to hear the punchline. Resist that urge, folks.

11. A LITTLE BIT OF SOAP
A bizarre one-verse wonder, which was mixed, arranged, and performed by Posdnuos. It isn't bad, but at the same time, I'm grateful that it's short.

12. TREAD WATER
This song is simply awesome. No, really, it is.

13. POTHOLES IN MY LAWN
I've always liked this song, and not simply because it uses the same Melvin Bliss sample that the Ultramagnetic MC's used on their "Ego Trippin'". But, in listening to it today, it isn't grabbing me in the same manner as it has in the past.

14. SAY NO GO
Indistinguishable from some of the other tracks on here.

15. DO AS DE LA DOES
A goofy parody of rap music that comes off sounding more like an outtake from Prince Paul's Psychoanalysis (What Is It?) project, which is impossible, since this disc came out long before the other's inception. Paul fans may be impressed with the fact that the Popmaster character pops up on here (as does Q-Tip and MC Lyte, according to the liner notes), but otherwise, the skip button will have already been pressed.

16. PLUG TUNIN' (LAST CHANCE TO COMPREHEND)
Is that a harp? This track is easily the best song on the album: it's a perfect marriage of Paul's antiestablishment beats and the capable Native Tongue rhymes of Pos and Dave. This shit is just great. And, as an added bonus, it features the lyrics which were sampled for one of my favorite Gravediggaz tracks, "Defective Trip (Trippin')", which, conveniently enough, was also produced by Prince Paul. Coincidence?

17. DE LA ORGEE
This is just fucking ridiculous.

18. BUDDY (FEAT JUNGLE BROTHERS & Q-TIP)
Q-Tip is one of my favorite emcees to listen to (or at least he was, prior to Amplified, even though some of the tracks on there are really good), so I found myself looking forward to his contributions more so than anybody else on this song. This song pales in comparison to its monster of a remix, "Buddy (Native Tongue Decision)", which also included Queen Latifah and Monie Love, and is probably the version you two are more familiar with. Still, not bad.

19. DESCRIPTION
The flow is elementary (from everybody involved, including an uncredited Q-Tip, along with two female rappers named China and Jette), but I loved this fucking beat. Also, Paul actually rhymes on here, which is just weird in and of itself.

20. ME MYSELF AND I
This song sounds completely out of place compared to the rest of 3 Feet High and Rising, which may be why it appears close to the end of the disc. This single still gets some major burn around my way, and is still a pretty decent song, but overall it isn't that great, especially since it sounds almost nothing like the rest of De La's entire catalog. It's discussed ad nauseam that this track essentially introduced the idea of sampling George Clinton songs to the East Coast audience, and while that may be the case, Dr. Dre did it better a few years later.

21. THIS IS A RECORDING 4 LIVING IN A FULLTIME ERA (L.I.F.E.)
I didn't like the beat. (I know I'm always tripping over myself with new ways to praise the brilliance that is Prince Paul, but even I know when to quit.) However, the rhymes rock, so the song isn't a complete loss.

22. I CAN DO ANYTHING (DELACRATIC)
Lame ass skit.

23. D.A.I.S.Y. AGE
Meh.

24. PLUG TUNIN' (ORIGINAL 12" VERSION)
I have no clue if this version of the song appeared on the original release of the disc, but it's on the version that I bought, so there we go. I prefer the regular album version more, but this song is great all by itself: it helps that some of the lyrics are different.

FINAL THOUGHTS: 3 Feet High and Rising is good, but not great. The game show skits get old incredibly quickly, and you may find yourself believing that the album is more skit than actual music. You wouldn't be that far off: this album plays like an unnatural combination of Prince Paul's wacky fucked-up sensibilities and a good old fashioned hip hop album, but when it clicks, it fucking rocks. Luckily, it clicks more often than not, and there are a lot of bonafide classics on here, but don't be fooled, folks: some of these skits are annoying as shit, and I'm a Prince Paul stan.

BUY OR BURN? Even with that bizarre rant above, I would still recommend a purchase, because the songs that work are fucking awesome, and De La Soul deserves your lunch money. It's your call if you want to get the deluxe version, though: if I remember correctly, there wasn't really anything on there that was worth hunting down.

BEST TRACKS: "Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)"; "Tread Water"; "Description"; "Eye Know"; "Plug Tunin' (Last Chance To Comprehend)"; "Plug Tunin' (Original 12" Version)"

-Max

10 comments:

  1. Only things my opinion differs on:

    1)Say No Go = distinguishable. Why? Three words. Hall. Ampersand. Oates.

    2) I'm surprised you didn't go into more depth on the sheer ridiculousness of the Delacritic skit...I'll bet it's the first and last time "I can hold this piece of doodoo in my hand" has ever been put on record. Then again, I don't really listen to all those Lil' Wayne mixtapes so...

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  2. Nice review, definitely gonna check this album out. I'm sorta new to hip hop and so the only song I know by De La Soul is "Oooh Ooooh" that featured Redman, which I enjoyed at the time.

    Definitely gonna check this album out. Been listening to a lot of hardcore gangsta rap so this will be a good shift towards something more 'happy'.

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  3. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJuly 23, 2008

    It's Posdnuos not Posdunos. It's Sop and Sound backwards. Sop apparently means leftover. I guess it means leftover sound. Clearly, you don't know shit about hip hop.

    I like this album but I think De La Soul Is Dead was a tremendous improvement. I like the samples on that one better and the touches of social commentary helped lend weight to the lyrics. The overarching skit is also much funnier on their second album. Most of all, I like the part where that guy calls another guy an anal wart.

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  4. To the most felonious: noted, and edited. Which makes me feel stupid, since the fucking liner notes were right in front of me, but it was bound to happen at some point, so it's cool.

    th1: "Ooh Ooh" is the only De La song you've ever heard? You're in for a treat, in that case.

    Also, I was hoping that someone would eventually spell out the word 'ampersand' in my comments section.

    Thanks for reading!

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  5. solid review of one of my favorite albums, though the most felonious has it right when he says De La Soul is Dead is the better album.

    It's funny re-listening to the album today, because these days no major record label MCs would be bold to drop something this... different.

    I'm also here to tell you that you NEED to review Common's Resurrection, before he puts out the shit-show he's working on with Pharrell (No chad.)

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  6. PLUG TUNIN' (LAST CHANCE TO COMPREHEND) isn't the best song on the album...

    I listened to the album in 1989 when it came out, I went to high school. Back then I started to get into Rap and this album was really awesome, because of the samples. I never heard something like this befor, it sounded very melodic and the beats where different as usual at that time. There are no hard knocking 808 drums...

    As for De La Soul's image: although I liked (and still like) more hardcore acts, these 3 guys fitted just right with their music!

    P.S. 1: D.A.I.S.Y. AGE isn't "Meh". It's "ha ha ha, what the fuck?"

    P.S. 2: PLUG TUNIN' (ORIGINAL 12" VERSION) appeared on the original release (at least it did on the european version)

    -Kay-

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  7. Love this album. It certainly was a unique record when it casme out. I am kinda of angry when people forgets about Prince Paul (juts listen to first three De La records to hear genius). Pos and Trugoy did their thing hear (can't forgets Maseo). but the intriguing thing I feel they improved on their next record) (Stakes Is High may be my favorite). Oh well, De La seem to have what they called "First Time Is Best". No, that is no methapor for um se...um kids may be reading so figure that one out. What I am talking about is how you first record may be your best because you are most free from industry demons and other whatnots (Looks in Camp Lo direction (which were influnced by De La (interesting, huh)).

    Anyway, Cool review and until next time.

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  8. Max, I'm really starting to become a fan of your blog here. De La Soul is, without a doubt, my all time favorite group. I own every album and they get regular plays in my car, at home, on the mp3 player, and so on.

    Great review, it's a bonafide classic, but compared to thier follow up albums, it's kind of a sprawling mess of "awesome" and "meh." Listening to the album today, a good chunk of it I don't really care for, but they really do show some promise here.

    I agree with previous posters on De La Soul is Dead. Simply put, it is DLS's best effort, as they skewer thier positive image (and the critic's labelling of "hippies"), attack the rising issue of pop-rap, rip on gangsta rap, diss shady record people, critique fame, and ultimately deliver a bizarre, but strangely brilliant album, using the same style established in 3 Feet High but employed more effectively. I love it.

    Stakes is High and Buhloone Mindstate are also great albums too.

    But what the hell, Say No Go is "indistinguishable?" Daisy Age is "meh?" Bull, those are two awesome tracks!

    Oh, and: 17. DE LA ORGEE
    This is just fucking ridiculous.


    I see what you did there.

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  9. aww, it looks like you may not have time to make it to Operation: Doomsday within this month, which makes me sad. Is Stakes of High still your favorite De La album? I think it contains some of the greatest lyrical performances ever recorded.

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  10. loved the soun bites towards the end of the "magic number", especially when the yaad ie chick says "mih nuh waan nuh bloodclawt bwoi come shat to mi"..anywhere yaadisms is properly applied...got a dubb of this taape in 1990 and though i liked the bs i found that side a from into to plug tuning was a lot more enjoyable than side b, i fast forwarded a good portiont of side b, all in all though is definitely one of my favourites, absolutely loved dela is dead, for some reason i could'nt dig buhloone (apart from ego trip and such) and i bought stakes is high of the srtength of the first single with the Dirts Man sound bite (another case of yaadism nicely applied)

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