De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising is an album that can make hip-hop fans proud and hip-hop haters rethink their preferences. Released 22 years ago, the only things about this album that haven’t aged well are the occasional references to Swatches and similar ’80s cultural icons; the music, lyrics and themes are still relevant and catchy. 3 Feet High and Rising is a stark counterpoint to the gangsta rap that was rising to the forefront in 1989, offering a message of peace and wry humor while still speaking out against the growing violence and crack addiction of the time. While De La Soul’s three members, Posdnuos, Trugoy and Mase, were hardly straight out of the ghetto – they went to high school together on Long Island – their debut album touches on issues of drug use, sexual exploration, style and philosophy without being explicit (other than in “De La Orgee”) or preachy.
The messages in the album are interesting, but it’s the music that grabs and keeps the listener’s attention. 3 Feet High and Rising was recorded at a time when sampling was much less of a hassle than it is today, and De La Soul borrows clips and riffs from everyone from Hall and Oates to Steely Dan to Schoolhouse Rock to a beginning tutorial in French. (I had flashbacks to seventh grade the first time I heard “Transmitting Live From Mars”). The rhythms and lyrics are catchy, the wordplay is clever and the collaborators are a who’s who of classic hip-hop, including the Jungle Brothers and Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest.
Songs on 3 Feet High and Rising run the gamut from philosophical (“D.A.I.S.Y. Age” – D.A.I.S.Y. stands for “da inner sound, y’all”) to frisky (“Buddy”, “Jenifa Taught Me”) to serious (“Ghetto Thang”, “Say No Go”) to downright silly (“A Little Bit of Soap”). The songs stand well on their own, but in an age where songs are often downloaded piecemeal, this is an album worth listening to in its entirety. Every time I hear it, I get something new out of it.
De La Soul may have spent several years after the release of this album battling a reputation for being “hippies”, but anything more than a cursory listen to 3 Feet High and Rising will reveal an artful record that educates and entertains without taking itself too seriously.
Hear the album in full on Thursday night at 10:00 PM East, during Geek Love!