To be honest, I’m surprised it took 11 installments of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums (read intro), for someone to write about this album. But I’m more than pleased to hand over a post to Tony Sevener, drummer/beats programmer of San Francisco trio Honeycut, whose LP, The Day I Turned to Glass, was released on Quannum last year. (Read previous post.)
De La Soul
3 Feet High and Rising (Tommy Boy, 1989)
One of the most important (and favorite) hip-hop albums in my collection is De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. At the time of its release (1989), sampling had already taken over as the method-of-choice for hip-hop production. Hot producers of the time were pilfering every James Brown breakbeat known to man, and for the most part, the art of sampling hadn’t strayed too far from James and other “classic” funk breaks. Rhyme styles of the time were still largely bragadocious, and in the wake of Run DMC and LL Cool J a few years earlier, it seemed that MC’s were all trying to out-yell each other.
Enter: De La Soul.
From the second you approach the album cover to 3 Feet High you get the hint that this rap album is a horse of a different color … literally – day glo! Florescent flowers replaced the usual tough-guy posturing seen on rap record covers. Leather medallions replaced the obligatory dookie gold ropes of the time. And asymmetrical dread styles replaced…well, any orthodox hairdo I’d ever seen.
Once you dropped the needle on the record, your suspicion that this was something new was quickly confirmed. The first surprise was something that has now become commonplace on rap records – the skit (a hip hop facet pioneered on this album.) “Hey all you kids out there, welcome to 3 Feet High and Rising”… you were suddenly in the middle of a wacky game show, complete with nerdy host, and idiotic sounding contestants. It’s immediately apparent that these guys have a sense of humor – an odd one at that. Then the first track kicks in – a Led Zeppelin break sampled by way of Double Dee & Steinski’s Lesson 3. “The Magic Number” hits you over the head with a fat beat coupled with a vibe and lyrics that sound more influenced by Sesame Street than The Juice Crew. Track after track, the genius of producer Prince Paul is revealed to you thorough multi-layered sample collages which broke down the boundaries of what was then considered “sample-able.” Hall & Oates, The Turtles, Johnny Cash, Schoolhouse Rock, bits of French language instruction records, were all digested into a most unexpected sampledelic stew. Not only what was sampled, but how they were incorporated was next level.
As playful as the tracks and cuts (courtesy of PA Pasemaster Mase) were, so followed the rhymes conducted by Posdnous, and Trugoy. No LL-style yelling going on here. Their style was a sing-song, limerick-like flow that had yet to be heard in the rap arena. Although fun and funny, they were also smartly constructed, full of inside jokes and cryptic brilliance sometimes only revealed after a few swipes at the rewind button.
Surprisingly, the first track I heard from 3 Feet High and Rising was not the P-Funk inspired hit “Me, Myself and I.” I first heard the track “Eye Know” which dared to blend a Steely Dan’s hit “Peg”, Otis Redding’s “Sitting On The Dock of the Bay”, and thick Sly Stone break, with the MC’s spitting game to a girl in a manner which I’d never heard (and probably never will again). Growing up in the ‘70s, I knew Steely Dan’s “Peg” all too well, and when I heard this track, I bugged the f*** out! I couldn’t believe they had the balls to sample something this … soft (for lack of a better term). It was the complete opposite of what most hip-hop artists were trying to achieve at the time … and THAT’s genius. This track had me running to the store the same day to cop the record.
Front to back, De La’s debut is one of the biggest musical coups in hip-hop that I can remember. It, with one fell swoop, broadened the scope of rap music tenfold. The artistic door, which was slightly ajar, was now kicked wide open. It now seemed like anything was possible. It was not unlike a hip-hop Sgt. Pepper. Writing this piece makes me smile and long for those days a little. The days when it seemed like anything might happen. The days when people still valued something so sorely missing from much of today’s hip-hop … originality.
De La Soul | Eye Know De La Soul | Eye Know (The Kiss Mix)