Three Feet High And Rising

De La Soul

Tommy Boy, 1989

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


For the "unofficial" new college student enrollment pack, there should be a copy of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a discarded ID by someone over the age of 21 who vaguely resembles your features and De La Soul's Three Feet High And Rising.

It's one of the ultimate college albums: dense with pop culture and literary references with stoner (read: hippie) sensibilities. It also doesn't hurt that when it came out, Three Feet High And Rising gave audiences a window to the emerging culture of hip-hop for people who may have been put off by the misogynistic and violent world of N.W.A. and the searing politics of Public Enemy.

For their 1989 debut, De La Soul unleashed a confident landmark album that for better and for worse altered hip-hop forever. Three Feet High And Rising helped popularize the role of the skit in hip-hop and rap albums by centering the album around a mock game show. In addition, the album helped bring about an end to the relatively free practice of sampling. (The Turtles sued De La Soul for using one of their songs without their permission. While this didn't bring an end to sampling, the idea that people were starting to follow through on their threats to sue if an unauthorized sample landed on an album made artists think twice before lifting a guitar riff or a memorable chorus.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

While initially this was heralded as a great victory, it's sad to think that albums like Three Feet High and the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique probably could not have been made in this era because the purchasing the permissions for all of the samples included in these two masterpieces would have probably bankrupted each band.

Posdnuos, Trugoy the Dove and Pasemaster Mase stuffed jazz samples, Steely Dan, Schoolhouse Rock and even stuff that came out a year before the album was released (Public Enemy). The subject matter was as rich as the samples; "Ghetto Thang" and "Say No Go" were socially-conscious without being too preachy. Though their pro-peace message may have caused a more than a few snickers from the gangsta rap crowd, the bedroom banter of tracks like "Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)," "Take It Off" and "De La Orgee" could match any of the sex-obsessed tracks of their gangsta peers in terms of sexual bravado.

Three Feet High And Rising was produced by hip-hop trailblazer Prince Paul. Paul knew the members of De La Soul while they were in high school. Friends of De La Soul actually got some mic time on the album, namely A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip on "Buddy," on of the hottest tracks on the album.

So successful was Three Feet High And Rising in defining who De La Soul was to its listeners and peers that they had to spend their next album tearing down and deconstructing their image. Flowers and daisies may have marketed the band, but one listen to Three Feet High And Rising should dissuade listeners from lumping the band into the "harmless hippie" category of music.

"Me Myself and I" became the defining song for De La Soul. There are superior tracks on Three Feet High And Rising, but the song sums up De La Soul's easygoing flow, wry humor and irresistible hooks. One of the tracks declares "This is a Recording 4 Living in a Fulltime Era (L.I.F.E.)." For a debut album, Three Feet High And Rising can make such a statement sound like fact, not just a boast.

Rating: B+

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© 2005 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Tommy Boy, and is used for informational purposes only.