As soon as you see the brightly colored album cover dotted with fluorescent flowers, you know that this isn’t your average hip-hop group. And as you listen to the opening skit, in which the members must answer several outrageous questions in some bizarre game show (i.e. “How many fibers are intertwined in a Shredded Wheat biscuit?”), it is natural to conclude that something is off about them. But as soon as you hear the Schoolhouse Rock sample in the first track (yes, the kids’ show) along with their insistence that “three is the magic number,” it is obvious that De La Soul was bold to the point of stupidity.
During the 80’s, it was career suicide for a hip-hop act to pose as anything other than a “gangsta” or a “lyrical prodigy”. But with the backing of renowned producer Prince Paul, a trio of teens hailing from Amityville, Long Island tossed the rules of traditional hip-hop out the window with their 1989 debut “Three Feet High and Rising.” And they went by the name of De La Soul.
While all their peers were busy boasting of their lives of crime or their lyrical superiority over others, De La Soul took a more free-willed approach. By refusing to be the stereotypical, battle-hardened emcee, the group managed to take advantage of their artistic integrity without the fear of maintaining such a persona.
As a result, “Three Feet High and Rising” was nothing short of a masterpiece. From the funk collective Parliament and Funkadelic to an obscure French educational record, Prince Paul sampled the unexpected to create a vibrant and unique soundscape as colorful as the album cover, and frontmen Posdnuos and Trugoy (which is “Soundsop” and “Yogurt” spelled backwards) made up for their lack of street cred with their wittiness, effortlessly exchanging lines that are both delightfully quotable and light years more advanced than what most of their competitors could come up with. The album oozed of the feel-good vibe, elaborately showcasing the members’ dynamic personalities while promoting the D.A.I.S.Y. Age (Da Inner Sound, Y’all), a period of peace, positivity and individuality, throughout the entirety of its length.
The members also weren’t too afraid of intruding upon the more controversial subjects, most notably addressing the crack epidemic in a track titled “Say No Go” and voicing their views on the inner-city slums in the bass-heavy track “Ghetto Thang”.
Courtesy of the efforts of De La Soul, “Three Feet High and Rising” serves as both a thought provoking record and an engaging listen. It also paved the way for alternative hip-hop, as the mainstream and critical success the album obtained during its release proved that hip-hop artists don’t always have to rap about their abilities on the microphone and the street life. Subsequent releases from the group and its Native Tongue affiliates created an entire subgenre of hip-hop.
March 3rd, 1989 marked a very significant event in music history, and looking back on it 28 years later, we can see the massive legacy just one album left behind.