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In 1989 the trio of Posdnuos, Trugoy, Maseo came together as De La Soul to release their debut album. It found the group moving Hip Hop in a new direction as with backing from Stetsasonic's Prince Paul, they chose to support a then underground movement to bring positivity back to the genre using ways which got them a reputation for putting forth 'Hippy' ideals.
2. "The Magic Number"
Getting the album going properly, you hear that they go straight into one of the key singles from the album, and I have to say that despite the fact it was one of the most popular cuts from it, it simply wasn't something I felt anything for as you see that they do one where they try to show some degree of contrast to what yo hear elsewhere with other Hip Hop acts by doing a whole track dedicated to the number three, but I just wasn't getting it. I did however feel the jazzy production which backed them.
3. "Change in Speak" (Lude)
4. "Cool Breeze on the Rocks" (Lude)
5. "Can U Keep a Secret" (Lude)
6. "Jenifa Taught Me"
I have to say that although this one initially seems to be something quite lively, but it doesn't really come to that much once you have got a feel for it as it stays on the same sort of level once it has got some sort of direction > it displays how modern sounds of the time, such as New Jack Swing have influenced what they do, but it just doesn't do enough to be really excited about.
7. "Ghetto Thang"
Here I felt as though you got a bit of a lift from this one as you see that as they ride some funky work and also use James Brown's "Funk Drummer" synth to drive this song as they do a track on the album to have them attempting to change people's perceptions upon how they see many cultural things which they assume to fit in with life,. But in actual fact are put in place to bring people down.
8. "Transmitting Live From Mars" (Lude)
9. "Eye Know"
If you were into "The Magic Number", then I expect that this is one for you, but I saw it as a bit of a step up upon that one as it sees them doing things a little more lively and accessible to Hip Hop fans with something which does use alternative sources for its samples, but still comes with something fresh for all to get down to.
10. "Take It Off" (Lude)
11. "A Little Bit of Soap" (Lude)
12. "Tread Water"
As the title indicates, this one has them doing something which really shows just how far they differ from the kind of thing which you would have typically got from a Hip Hop track of its time, and t has them all making as much effort as they can to really put across the eccentricity of their work, and especially in what you get here.
13. "Potholes in My Lawn"
This is a track on the album which finds them getting down to some funky Hip Hop which sounds to as if it has them taking form the work of A Tribe Called Quest (one of few others to drop albums of this kind before them) as they rhyme in a much harder way in order to show that they can still do the same as others in the Hip Hop world, without it preventing it from doing something very new. The use work from Parliament's debut album, "Osmium" in this one and it just tops it off.
14. "Say No Go"
This is a fresh track on the album and I felt that the choice in samples was a large influence upon my enjoyment of it all as you discover that they take from various sources on this one to get them going as they use classic Rock,, Funk and early eighties Hip Hop as they do a track against drug use. It is one which improves with time and I can't see why you wouldn't enjoy it.
15. "Do as De La Does" (Lude)
16. "Plug Tunin'"
This is a strange track on the album as it is one of the tracks which I can't say I really enjoyed, but there's something about it which prevents you from hating on t as they do a low-paced tune which has them floating through it and just showing that they have some unique opinions, and are able to express it all in jus t a original manner.
17. "De La Orgee" (Lude)
This was one of the singles from the album, and unlike the others which you got from it, this one was really for those who rally knew what the Jazz Rap movement was about as you see that they do one where they collaborate with Jungle Brothers as well as A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip to show what all the best acts from this filed can do when bringing their unique ways together.
19. "Description" (Lude)
20. "Me Myself and I"
This was perhaps their most well-known track (especially for this album) and it finds them doing a track which really stands out on the album as a result, and I feel that this is also down to the fact that they brought out some of the best samples to back them as they do a funky jam to get you into the groove as they a track which shows just how innocent their raps were and what a contrast they managed to create as a result.
21. "This Is a Recording 4 Living in a Fulltime Era"
Off that monster tune on the album, you have them choosing to keep the energy levels high on this track, and I felt that taking on some classic Old School Hip Hop work was where they needed to go to in order to bring out the last bits of the high-quality material of their work, and you see that they straight kill it for doing this as a result by doing something which reflects which was done in those times.
22. "I Can Do Anything" (Outro)
I have to say that I was disappointed by this album as I expect, after hearing their second album first, that this would be just as strong as it was the record which broke them into the music world, but in fact there were only really a few big tunes on the album and many poor ones padding it all out, this, with the inclusion of excessive interludes and skits means that the better ones stand out, but it takes much longer to get to them.
De La Soul don't swear very much, don't get angry in their music, and in most ways disagree with the gangster lifestyle. They sing about money, drugs, and women, same as all the other rappers at the time did... but they're far more personal. De La Soul don't really care if they're rich or not, are anti-drug, and the songs they have about women are all about male inadequacies and frustrations. In short, they're an anti-gangster trio.
While their music has an upbeat tempo and generally sunny disposition, the two rappers (Posdnuos and Trugoy) take shots at several of the more subversive gangster stereotypes on this, their first album, Three Feet and Rising (yes, it's named after a Johnny Cash song - proof of the eclectic nature of the trio's musical influences). On songs such as "Ghetto Thang" and "Say No Go" - which is, incidentally, one of the catchiest songs about drugs ever written - the group tackle subjects that other rap artists of the time used to revel in, and show the gritty underside of the rap dream. Say No Go in particular is a joy, announcing itself with a burst of trumpets before the low, rolling bassline comes in and the lyrics start. The song is very much critical of drug-use, specifically attacking the 'joke' that are people addicted to crack cocaine. Yet despite being utterly scathing, the song but delivers this message in a bouncy, positive way, and the track is infectious, to say the least. Ghetto Thang is less upbeat but equally infectious, beginning with the lines "Mary had a little lamb/That's a fib - she had two twins though/and one crib". It denounces the rap dream, showing the pitfalls that await anyone who tries to emulate Eazy-E or other, similar, rappers, who preached about guns, sex, and drugs.
The subversive elements are rarely given a chance to show up, however - Three Feet High and Rising is more about style than anything else. This is the album, after all, which pretty much invented the art of "skits". For this, it is to be both commended and hated. While they're funny the first time you hear them, no rap album since seems to be able to go without them. Outkast do it, Kanye West does it, even 50 Cent has a go (albeit his jokes tend to end with him shooting someone. Guy has a temper issue). On this album the skits take up about as much space as the real songs do, with short skits where the band do various things. There are several different ideas which revolve round themes, such as the band telling the listener to do certain things or say certain things. They describe themselves and reveal secrets about each other, and many other things too. The skits vary in quality and listenability, but overall add to, rather than detract from, the experience.
Aside from these skits, or perhaps in spite of them, there are still a series of excellent songs here, even if you aren't a fan of rap. De La Soul are one of the few bands who have broken into mainstream consciousness, which I can prove by telling you about "The Magic Number". Yes, De La Soul were the first to announce that three was a magic number, with this fun song that starts the album proper. As far as fun poppy moments go, this album has them to spare, with the seriously good natured "Tread Water" a certain highlight, featuring the band ask different animals for advice about life in general, and making some terrifically awful rhymes in the process. One of the better things about the album is the generous nature it has towards the songs. The good songs are placed throughout the tracklisting, so that you are never more than a few minutes away from something good. The end of the album sees a slight departure from the trippy hippy vibe than emanates from the early idealism of tracks like "Eye Know", which is a surprisingly heartfelt ballad track. Instead of talking about women as objects, the bandmembers take a more realistic approach, talking about ideals like love and romance, instead of just plain ol' sex. With a gentle whistling hook and a laid-back tone, it's a swell tune to listen to on a sunny day.
There's a strong summer vibe floating across the entire record. "Me Myself And I", possibly their most famous song, is a testament to this. A big bouncy number with eminently quotable lyrics "Write is wrong when hype is written/on the Soul, De La that is/Style is surely our own thing/Not the false disguise of show-biz" - and this was before Heat magazine ever existed. Visionary stuff, really. The song is all about being happy with who you are - and that's a nice thing. It's very obviously the song that inspired the majority of Will Smith's early career with Jazzy Jeff, having a very similar style and tone to most of those hip-hop songs. The band don't always come up on top - "Buddy", sung with Q-Tip, comes across as an under inflated piece of boring music, coupled with uninspiring lyrics. Similarly most of the songs which have a reference to the two rappers as 'plug one' and 'plug two' (it's a concept thing, don't ask) tend to be the worst here. The two versions of "Plug Tunin" are both overlong and entirely dull, characterised by slow, pondering backing tracks and ultimately don't hold the attention. The amount of skits gets more annoying with each listen of the album, as skits really can't hold up to being heard more than two or three times. Short pieces like "Transmitting Live From Mars" and "Cool Breeze On The Rocks" are more distracting than anything else, and when the band try to go for a Public Enemy inspired rap track like "This Is A Recording 4 Living In A Fulltime Era", they suffer in the comparison.
But the album, overall, tends to skip these faults. There's a reason this is regarded as one of the best hip-hop albums of all time - it's damn entertaining. Whether sampling James Brown on "Change In Speak" or dropping everything to listen to their nephew play chopsticks on the piano ("Jenifa Taught Me", which never stops being amusing), De La Soul have creativity and passion in spades, and this comes across on the album. It's a sweeping ideal, but one that is impossible not to get caught up in.
In 1989 rap music was suffering a mini-crisis. It was running out of ideas. For five years rappers had bragged about themselves on record. Then along came NWA who singled-handedly invented gangsta rap with such karaoke favourites as F**k Tha Police, A Bitch Iz A Bitch and Dopeman that included lines such as:
-a nigga like me is on the warpath
-and when Ive finished theres gonna be a bloodbath
-of cops dying in LA
-yo Dre Ive got something to say
But for some, me included, this was taking rap music in the wrong direction. There needed to be something new, some fresh angle or take on rap music to counteract the aggressive and stale nature of the genre. Then, out of the blue, came three history students from Long Island, New York who decided that rap neednt be confrontational or self-obsessed or inaccessible to most people. They were rappers Posdnous, Trugoy and their DJ and crate-digger Mace. Together they were De La Soul and they transformed peoples perception of the whole rap culture.
So what's Three Feet High And Rising? Well, it rap music's first concept album with the common denominator, the thread, being built around a fictional gameshow with ridiculously easy questions that remain largely unanswered. I've always thought that this aspect of the album was having a bit of a dig at those rappers who are quick to use expletives instead of a witty put-down.
And 23 tracks later, the whole whirlwind of samples and beats and intelligent rapping and skits comes to an abrupt halt like a sonic rollercoaster. But what a journey it is. Buckle up!
Silly little "skit" that kicks of the concept of the gameshow mentioned above. Complete with glitzy prime time TV music and a gold microphone wielding presenter, one contestant calls upon his cousin Nate to help him answer his easy question. Like the stupid questions they ask on GMTV applied to CD.
**2. Magic Number**
Still used for little television trailers even now, this simple song with its three: thats the magic number chorus and fabulously murky beats and singsong rapping still sounds fresh and vibrant today. This instant classic was, remarkably, the fourth single lifted from the album in January 1990. If it was released sooner, before fans had bought the album, it would have peaked higher than the number seven it achieved.
**3. Change In Speak**
Accentuated by a constant soulful grunt and a six-note trumpet riff throughout, this short track compliments Magic Number well and is a sensible step forward on the album. At the end, we hear some manic DJ scratching that segues into .
**4. Cool Breeze On The Rocks**
This track, clocking in at under a minute is the perfect chance for Mixmaster Mace to show off his DJ-ing skills. Taking vocal samples from tracks by artists as diverse as Run DMC and Michael Jackson, as long as the sample mentions the word rock, its included here to create an aural collage that melds together nicely. More of a vanity track than anything else, but still very clever.
**5. Can U Keep A Secret**
Silly little track over an uptempo bongo beat that features the members of the band whispering innocent, secretive facts about their fellow bandmates. As daft as it is unnecessary. The beat is fab though, and thats the point with this album: for every weak idea, there are two great ideas to counter it.
**6. Jenifa (Taught Me)**
Their debut single, released at the end of 1988, that failed to get anywhere in the charts and is much sought after these days as a collectors item. Mace takes the woo-yeah vocal sample that appeared on every dance and rap track in those days and, using superior mixing skills, twists it into an unrecognisable sound. The beat comes fast and furious on this humorous tale of losing ones virginity. Jenifa sounds great.
**7. Ghetto Thang**
The tempo slows for only the third proper song on the album so far. Another single release in the summer of 1989 and another top twenty hit for the band. I mentioned earlier, the need for a rap group to steer away from aggression and self-indulgence and with this stinging and witty ode to the problems of inner cities the world over. Mary had a little lamb/Thats a fib/She had two kids, though, a one crib. A huge problem, simply addressed.
**8. Transmitting Live From Mars**
Pointless little skit that detracts from the true quality of this album. Ecoute.
**9. Eye Know**
With the plundering of the 1960s soul and rhythm n blues vaults by the rap acts in the 1980s, its a wonder it took so long to steal the whistley bit from Otis Reddings Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay and turn it into the main melody of a song. Thats what De La Soul have done here brilliantly on this bittersweet love song. It is little strokes of inspiration like this that give this album its enduring appeal 16 years on.
**10. Take It Off**
Another short track, once again criticising the whole rap culture of the 1980s. Take those gold chains off/Take those sneakers off, they plead over a repetitive, dated beat. An anti-uniform song if you like. This segues intro the hygiene-conscious .
**11. A Little Bit Of Soap**
in which the sing song rhyming style of Magic Number reappears in a concerted plea for more people to take more care of their personal hygiene more often. The beat reminds me of that struck-match beat from Ben E Kings Stand By Me and as such adds a little bit of quality to a song of questionable sentiment.
**12. Tread Water**
A lot of people dismissed De La Soul as hippies when they first arrived on the scene. Sure, they shied away from the limelight, refused to follow raps uniform of gold chains and gold teeth and wore leather medallions with African maps and CND logos on them. Then they recorded this track: a song in which they talk to various animals and get their views of an ever-changing world. I was walking on the water when I saw a crocodile/he had daisies in his hat so I stopped him for a while. Aside from the new age mumbo jumbo, the lyrics are rather astute and the shuffling beat and distinct bassline make this a treat.
**13. Potholes In My Lawn**
"I've got potholes in my lawn", raps Trugoy on this song about the sheer monotony of white, suburban life. Comparing the ghetto lifestyles of it's largely black residents to the seemingly minute daily problems faced by their white, suburban counterparts, this is another piece of social commentary that you can dance to.
**14. Say No Go**
And so as this month sees the release of that United Nations dance track called Out Of Touch, here we find another Darryl Hall And John Oates track pillaged for creative gain. This time it's their blue eyed soul classic I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) cut up to superb effect by Mace on this tale of teenage junkies getting pregnant. Still more social awareeness, then, but all the more richly satisfying for it.
**15. Do As De La Does**
Remember Fatman Scoop's Be Faithful track from last year? Well the "call and answer" rap style originated in the 80s and was rife around the time of the release of 3 Feet High And Rising. This is De La Soul's brief response to that style, done with humour and biting wit.
**16. Plug Tunin' (Last Chance To Comprehend)**
This is the b-side to Jenifa (Taught Me) and sadly has not stood the test of time. One of the couple of weak links that I cite in my rating.
**17. De La Orgee**
Pointless skit involving a syncopated drum beat and lots of groaning. Bit like Karenes' house on a Friday night, then.
De La Soul weren't stupid. If they were going to create a new movement in music, they weren't going to do it on their own as a trio, they needed some allies to fight back against the anticipated backlash from the "traditional" rap fraternity. So they recruited some like-minded artists and formed a sub-group called the Native Tongues whose interest lay with black history and integration. Hence this mid-tempo track features the Jungle Brothers ("What U Waitin 4?"), Monie Love ("Grandpa's Party"), Queen Latifah ("Mama Gave Birth To The Soul Children") and A Tribe Called Quest ("Can I Kick It?"). Needless to say the ensuing six minutes features many voices wwith many opinions. Not bad for a song about willies.
Skit. A bit dull with some nice background flourishes.
**20. Me Myself And I**
Their first hit in the spring of 1989 was this George Clinton-sampling track. The keyboard riff and bassline are stolen from him and the rapping is ever so simple but very, very infectious. I saw this video on VH1 on New Year's Eve and we hooked up the stereo to the TV and this made our night. Choon!
**21. This Is A Recording 4 Living In A Fulltime Era (LIFE)**
The only full-length track on the album that actually drags. A bit boring as the whole De La Soul message starts to slightly grate.
**22. I Can Do Anything (Delacratic)**
**23. DAISY Age**
And so to the last two tracks that really highlight De La Soul's philosophy back in 1989. I Can Do Anything is a call to arms to all the people with low self esteem and little respect for their potential, and D.A.I.S.Y Age (da Inner Sound, Y'All) is a goodtime, old time party tune the likes of which kid N Play used to bash out befreo they became shit.
And there you have it.
Overall, the album is an absolute classic, noteworthy for the music as m uch as the incisive lyrics, which is a rare thing for a rap album. After Three Feet.....they released the just as good De La Soul Is Dead album featuring Another Roller Skating Jam Named "Saturdays" and Keepin' The Faith, both of which were a slight move towards the pop audience they quite obviously craved on this album.
Three Feet High And Rising is the rarest of rap albums. It features no swearing, fabulous humour, superior intellect and a wealth of revolutionary (for 1989!) ideas. They would never achieve the success of this album ever again.
De La Sol's '3 Feet High and Rising' is regarded as one of the classic Hip-Hop rap albums of all-time. Its release took hip-hop in another direction with its relaxed style, and sampled like not other band had sampled before. It sold remarkably well on both sides of the Atlantic, although it is only recently that the band have approached similar heights once again. When '3 Feet...' was created, Pos, Mace et al were all still teenagers, and each track was based upon a number of samples with (extremely laid-back) rapping layered on top. In fact, it was the sampling which got De La Sol into trouble. Their track 'Transmitting Live From Mars', sampled a song by 'The Turtles'. This resulted in a successful legal action being mounted, and as a result, a hefty chunk of the album's royalties were taken away from the band and their record company. Bearing in mind the track itself was less than a minute long, it seems a harsh price to pay, especially as the process for clearing samples nowadays is much simpler than it was back then. A number of singles were released from the album, with 'The Magic Number' being the most successful, achieving Top 10 success in the UK. This was no mean feat in the 1980's for American rap acts. Other successes included 'Say No Go' and 'Me, Myself and I', which came complete with its own comedy high-schoolesque video. 'The Magic Number' is arguably the stand-out track, although each and every one has its own quirky appeal. After all, how many albums can you name with songs dedicated to armpit hygiene ('Little Bit of Soap') and dandruff ('Can U Keep a Secret?)? De La Sol always played heavily upon their image, and their day-glo style seemed to crop up everywhere subsequently, from Monie Love to early TLC. Although it seems a little dated in parts, '3 feet...' is still an essential purchase, and has
wider cross-over appeal than many of its comtemporary rap albums which were around at the same time.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Magic number
3 Change in speak
4 Cool breeze on the rocks
5 Can U keep a secret
6 Jenifa (taught me)
7 Ghetto thang
8 Transmitting live from Mars
9 Eye know
10 Take it off
11 Little bit of soap
12 Tread water
13 Potholes in my lawn
14 Say no go
15 Do as De La does
16 Plug tunin' (Last chance to comprehend)
17 De La orgee
20 Me myself and I
21 This is a recording 4 living in a fulltime era (LIFE)
22 I can do anything (Delacratic)
23 DAISY age
24 Plug tunin' (are you ready for this version)
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Freedom of speak (We got three more minutes)
2 Dtrickly Dan Stukie
3 Jenifa (taught me) (12" vocal version)
4 Skip to my loop (12" version)
5 Potholes in my lawn (12" version)
6 Me myself and I (oblapos mode 12" version)
7 Ain't hip to be labelled a hippie (12" version)
8 What's more
9 Brainwashed follower (12" version)
10 Say no go (new keys vocal 12" version)
11 Double Huey (skit)
12 Mack daddy on the left
13 Ghetto thang (Ghetto ximer)
14 Eye know (know it all mix)