While Public Enemy were fighting the power with their heavily politicked rhymes, and N.W.A were telling the ugly truths of what it meant to be black in America in the 80s, I’ve always thought of De La Soul as hip hop’s nice guys. They were gentle, hippyish, even a little goofy. But even if my assumptions about the band are true, it doesn’t change the fact the De La Soul are one of the genre’s pioneers and biggest influences. And a certifiable classic like 3 Feet high and Rising is enduring proof of their importance.
With vintage, gramophone cracking samples and its overall positive vibe, The Magic Number is early support for my nice guy theory. With more singing than rhyme spitting, it’s all good times and chilled hang outs with friends. A feeling only more solidified with Change in Speak.
The simplicity of 80s hip hop is on full show in Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin’s Revenge) and Ghetto Thang. Slow, basic and never scared of the easiest rhyming schemes, this kind approach to production and lyrics that was cutting edge, is what a middle aged white guy would write now if they decided to give rap a go.
With Eye Know, De La Soul delivers one of the standout songs that makes 3 Feet High and Rising a classic to this day. It’s still simple by today’s standards, but Eye Know takes advantage of its sampled hook in a way that is still copied by current rappers and producers. The lyrics are as straight forward as ever, but there’s something just so infectious about this song that a lot of this album doesn’t maintain.
Maintaining quality doesn’t seem to be a real concern of De La Soul though. At over an hour and 24 tracks, 3 Feet high and Rising has a lot of inessential, piss farting around. Between the recurring game show sketches, and pointless noise experiments like Can U Keep a Secret? and A Little Bit of Soap, this is the kind of record that throws everything at the wall and doesn’t seem very worried about how much doesn’t stick.
Things get funky and 3 Feet High and Rising reaches its clear highpoint with Me, Myself and I. Like Eye Know, this song is a major contributor to the record’s enduring legacy today. It also shows that De La Soul only get better when they get a little more ambitious. The production and samples here are the most complex on the album. And that complexity forces the MCs to push themselves harder so they don’t get lost within it.
De La Soul were hip hop pioneers. 3 Feet high and Rising is a certifiable classic and enduring proof of their importance. But ultimately, too many people have taken hip hop in too many interesting directions in the years since this record for me to be really blown away by it. If only I was cool enough as a nine year old to have listened to it when it came out.