Classics Revisited: De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising

Written by Aaron. Posted in Reviews, Spotlight

Published on December 07, 2011 with 4 Comments

These days, the word “classic” is thrown around as loosely as a Nerf ball at a picnic. However, we at TRU consider classics to be something which stand the test of time and have a resounding influence on their respective fields. But how do albums considered classics sound to the ears of TRU’s young blood? Aaron J. McKrell was born in 1990 and we’ve convinced him to turn his scope on a classic from the rich history of hip-hop to view it through a contemporary lens in a weekly series we call…


It is safe to say I have never heard anything like De La Soul. Every time I thought I had the group figured out, they’d throw me a curveball a la “De La Orgee.” That doesn’t mean their zaniness is a bad thing. O contraire, I thoroughly enjoyed “3 Feet High and Rising.” De La Soul consists of Posdnous, Trugoy and Maseo. Pos (Plug One) and Trugoy aka Dave (Plug Two) are technically strong, smooth-sounding emcees who mesh together seamlessly, backed by P.A. Pasemaster Mase (Plug Three) on the wheels of steel. The fact that they aren’t all that distinguishable from each other works well for the sake of the group, because it means no one rapper is bigger than De La Soul. As Posdnous said on “Magic Number:” “Without my one and my two, where would I be?”

While he wasn’t officially a part of the group, Prince Paul can be seen as the fourth memeber, as he essentially created De La’s sound. Paul proves himself a master of samples; each one is purposely placed to enhance a song. For evidence of this, peep “Cool Breeze on the Rocks,” where he uses samples of rappers shouting/rapping the word “rock” in an impressive succession. His jazzed-out, funky beats are dope enough to stand on their own, as they do in between/after De La’s verses on multiple songs. Simply put; he’s a beast on the boards, no Barkley. Paul also invented the album interlude, which makes me want to leave something on his doorstep-though I’m not sure if that something is a gift basket or flaming bag of dog crap. In Paul’s defense, the skits serve the album well, even if there’s a few too many of them. As far as content, De La Soul is positive hip-hop done right. Rather than beat you over the head with a hyped-up inspirational rhetoric, De La uses smooth metaphors and easy-flowing music to convey their messages. It also helps that they infuse positivity with hilarity. Who else in hip-hop, back then or today, could get away with rapping about staying positive and having conversations with animals- on the same song? That’s “Tread Water” for you. Sometimes, the group’s comedy misses; the yodeling on “Potholes in my Lawn” frankly sucks, and the French-speaking interlude “Transmitting Live from Mars” is lame. Fortunately, those misses are far less frequent than De La’s comedic antics, and even when they’re not funny, they’re usually still fun.

De La Soul may be one of the few groups which can convincingly tread on serious topics such as urban ills and drug abuse (“Ghetto Thang” and “Say No Go,” respectively) and still be smooth and funky. The love ode “Eye Know,” is the album’s opus, and is everything De La; beautiful, smooth, fun and warm- all without being all Hallmark on us. My only beef with this album is that it is too long. While most of the tracks are listenable and even repeat-worthy, some should have been left out for a more enjoyable listening experience. For instance, “Me Myself and I” would have sounded a lot better had it not been placed at track number 20 of 24. The length of the album does damper the listening experience for me.

At the end of the day though, De La Soul is dope. They are a group to be reckoned with that doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Really, they’re just normal guys who I feel I could dap up without trepidation, and that’s a compliment. Rather than spout off about self-importance and materialism, they renounce fancy clothes and poke fun themselves. Basically, De La Soul works because they’re themselves. With today’s hip-hop landscape full of fronting MCs and clones, they are more important than ever. Without ever having to say it, they lead by example with a rhetoric my generation needs to follow; be comfortable in your own skin.

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Aaron, by day, is a broke-college student and a journalism major with a deep passion for hip-hop culture and music. He hails from Erie, PA and loves all things Pittsburgh and the Sixers. By night, Aaron is the most-feared superhero prowling the streets, looking to apply justice wherever he sees fit. (Note: it is rumored that when Chuck Norris goes to bed at night, he checks his closet for Aaron)

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There are currently 4 Comments on Classics Revisited: De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. Not to be an old school caught up in nostalgia, but I have a point of contention here.  The “Transmitting live from Mars” is dope as fuck, and not in a nostalgic type of way.  The fact that they sampled The Turtles “You Showed Me”  opened mad heads to genre jumping with the hip hop sample kingdom.  The yodeling in “Potholes”  had to be intentionally done and was integral to the song structure.  The sampling of “Little Ole Country Boy”  made it imperative that it be a part of the song.  Try listening to the sample source and then revisit the interpolation by De La and Prince Paul.  In a sense of the audio experience, how does track placement make a song sound better? Is a song less dope due to placement?  If that were the case, we wouldn’t find “gems” on albums because they are buried sometimes.  

    • Finding single gems is cool but is a whole other thing than enjoying an album as a complete piece of work. Sequencing can be an integral part of the way an album is built and experienced. You’re right that it doesn’t affect how a single song sounds but it can certainly affect how an album is listened to and perceived as a whole. You may not agree with Aaron’s assessment but his reasoning makes sense imo.

      • I whole-heartedly agree with the album listening experience and its relation to a single listening experience.  That being said, if we’re specifically siting “3 Feet High and Rising” , it is my belief that the length of the album was the major crux of the album as a whole.  The abstract concern here for me I guess, would be the whole undefinable quality of “getting it”.  I’m not an insider of the Native Tongue camp, solely a  fan, and it “felt” to me that it (the album) was a cohesive unit that took most listeners on a journey through the minds of Prince Paul and the gentlemen of De La Soul.   One’s opinion is one’s opinion and Aaron makes some great analysis, but, as we know, there’s a level of detachment, that seems to exist only in the realm of Hip Hop between generations, that contributes to how people view these works.  As Aaron was not even alive when the album dropped and came of age most certainly 10 years after it did, his view would most certainly differ from mine, being aged 20, when 3FH&R (sorry for the abbreviation) was released.  All of the preceding babble, is probably the result of a butt hurt old head that saw one of his most favorite albums slighted on a very minuscule level and was pissed that he didn’t see it as an absolute classic.  :-)

        Dee El Sends

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