Timeless Affairs: 3 Feet High and Rising
Updated: Mar 3
Welcome to Timeless Affairs, the corner within Steppin' Into Tomorrow, where we shine a spotlight on essential albums that have shaped our culture (and lives in many cases). We lovingly revisit, explore and zoom in on these gems in their full length. Digging out stories and fun facts from the making of the masterpieces that have built the foundation of the music today and continue to shape the future.
March 3rd, 2023 is a loaded day. In addition to the 34th anniversary of De La Souls album '3 Feet High and Rising' , we also celebrate the fact that, as of this day, the catalog of the group is now fully available on the streaming services after strenuous years of disputes, trials and tribulations. Being in digital limbo for this long means that their music is, as we speak, being unleashed at a whole new generation. At the same time, the commemorative moment became undoubtedly extremely bittersweet, due to Trugoy the Dove's recent untimely passing that shook us to the core.
It's really astounding how much De La Soul has accomplished throughout their career, the longevity & consistency they demonstrated and the tough decisions they've had to make on the journey in order to get here where we are today. Despite all of the florists & daisies & all that, I feel De La Soul can't get enough flowers for their contribution to hip hop & the world at large.
De La Soul, composed of Kelvin “Posdnous” Mercer, Dave “Trugoy the Dove” Jolicoeur, and Vincent “Pasemaster Mase” Mason, three friends that met in High School Amityville, Long Island, New York. After linking up with Prince Paul, producer & deejay from Stetsasonic, who went to the same High School, magic ensued.
The group’s catalog is among the most wanted and most consistent collections of albums in hip-hop history. The groups groundbreaking debut album, released on Tommy Boy Records, is also the first of three collaborations with Prince Paul. The album title comes from the Johnny Cash song 'Five Feet High and Rising' and the iconic artwork was designed by a radical British post-punk artist collective, the Grey Organisation, which defined the album's aesthetic with a bright, neon palette, and a pop-art sensibility.
De La Soul set out to move away from the prevailing macho hip-hop codes which have a tendency to dominate to this day, and shift towards the type of unprecedented assembly of genuine sound where playfulness, and good humor were essential. Inventing their own slang along the way.
"It was playful, childlike and fun. We’d rap about “Mr Fish swimming in a bathroom sink”. We’d dip into psychedelia or jazz. We’d slow down Eddie Murphy’s voice and add a car screeching or us yodeling. At no point did we think what we were doing would end up being so revolutionary." -Posdnous
3 Feet High and Rising' was released amid the late 90's boom in the kind of rap era which gravitated towards hardcore, confrontational, and violent lyrics (think Public Enemy's 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back' , or N.W.A. 'Straight Outta Compton') , when most hip-hop producers sampled artists like James Brown, or P-Funk. De La Soul borrowed from recordings by unlikely choices of artists such as WAR, Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, or a French language instructional record. Their album also introduced the concept of "skits", which became so prevalent in the years to come. Especially on rap albums, that is.
Leading with the first chart-topping single, "Me, Myself and I", '3 Feet High and Rising' spawned hits and rap classics like "The Magic Number", "Eye Know", or "Potholes In My Lawn". Guest appearances by members of their musical collective the Native Tongues (which they founded together with A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers & more), including Q-Tip and the Jungle Brothers, are sprinkled throughout the album & the spirit of the crew is beautifully captured in "Buddy".
De La Soul's uniquely positive style and groovy 70s attitude led them to being often inaccurately labeled as a "hippie group", in the hip hop community. This was also based on their declaration of the "D.A.I.S.Y. Age" (Da Inner Sound, Y'all), the flowers & peace signs in their artwork, their distinctive style that was very much their own.
On Valentine’s Day in 2014, De La Soul gave away digital files of their entire Warner catalog to their fans, and that has been the only official digital release of their records so far. The strenuous process De La had to go through to get to this day when their music is available on streaming is the most accurate confirmation of the industry rule number 4080, which is a whole another story about sample clearing, but luckily, today all of that nonsense has come to an end. It brings joy to my heart that a whole new generation gets to discover their incredible catalogue in its entirety from scratch, fully immerse themselves and be inspired by it over & over again. The message carries on its legacy and their observations still hold ground to this very day. Now let's bask in this De La goodness and revisit all of these classics, before the next album drops.
R.I.P. Trugoy the Dove <3
(September 21st, 1968 - February 12th, 2023)
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