Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #4: 3 Feet High and Rising

"Let me introduce myself, I'm Mr. Monkey"

De La Soul's debut record 3 Feet High and Rising was released on Tommy Boy Records 19 years ago.

They cultivated, then rejected their early "hippie" image


This is one of the very few records that I loved immediately (many of my all-time favorites took several listens to warm to), never got sick of, and believe sounds as good today to my 36-year-old ears as it did to my 17-year-old ears when it was released.

Rare is the debut that instantly changes an entire genre, but that is exactly what happened to rap* when Long Island, NY teenagers De La Soul (Kelvin Mercer/"Posdnuos", David Jude Jolicoeur/"Trugoy the Dove" and Vincent Mason/"P.A. Pasemaster Mace", plus producer Paul Huston/"Prince Paul") first hit the record stores. I imagine it's what rock and roll fans felt when Jimi Hendrix released "Are You Experienced" in 1967... things would never be the same (and in a good way!).

*I say "rap" because nobody called it hip-hop back then. Well, at least nobody in North Carolina.

Native Tongue in tha house

Before 3 Feet, I had no idea what sampling was. Their sampling, like in most of my favorite hip-hop records, not only gave you instant listening pleasure but also served double duty as a "heads up" on semi-obscure records containing the funkiest of drum breaks, horn sections, and contextually relevant lyrics.

There's no counting how many records I've dug up because at some point I recognized a De La sample in a song on the radio or wherever, but here are some of my favorite discoveries:

"Rock Creek Park" by The Blackbyrds on "Ghetto Thang"
"Five Feet High and Rising" by Johnny Cash on "The Magic Number"
“I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (We’re the Royal Macadamia Nuts)” on "Say No Go" and "You Showed Me" by The Turtles (from the underrated concept album The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, the usage of which cost De La many dollars)

not to mention

"School House Rock" fave "Three is the Magic Number by Bob Dorough (on "The Magic Number") which was one of the first and most/mos deft/def) instances of applying positive Gen-X childhood memories to elicit a pleasure/purchase response.

These fellow music nerds were made cool(er) when De La used "Peg" in "Eye Know"

For me, one of the great joys in listening to/absorbing so many great hip-hop albums from the late 80s to the mid 90s is the constant process of discovering samples and influences in the music I continue to hear/buy today. When I pick up a top-shelf funk compilation like The Mighty Mellow or The Sound of Funk, I can count on a few "ah HA" moments when I finally match a song with a favorite sample usage.

Guys loved 3 Feet High and Rising. Girls loved 3 Feet. Rap fans, pop fans, dance music fans, soul fans all loved it. The stoned and the straightlaced. Hip-hop heads and hip-hop haters.

"Mmm when a D.A.I.S.Y. grows in your mind."

In the calendar year containing early 1989 thru early 1990, 3 Feet, Paul's Boutique by the Beastie Boys and Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy were all released, and for that moment all other genres of music seemed obsolete by comparison. A full album (i.e. not just a single) has rarely been as much fun to listen to alone, with friends, or with hundreds of fellow dancers as 3 Feet. It has it all- a booty, a funny bone, a mind, a conscience, a soul.

"De la Soul, from the soul"

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found


Anonymous said...

I was first blown away by rap when I heard Run DMC's "Hard Times" (they're coming to your town you know) in the back of somebody's station wagon on the way back from a Boy Scouts meeting. However, that was more of a flame/moth kind of thing. It took the release of the three you mention at the end to make me think rap was a genre I could embrace and enjoy. Three Feet was definitely the most important since, for the first time, I heard songs talking about stuff I could understand and using song samples (like Peg) that were familiar. Three Feet totally changed the direction of my listening habits. There hasn't been a CD to do that for me since and I don't suppose there ever will be. Certainly my listening habits have changed but never pivoted compltely in a different direction off of one CD like that. And it does still sound good. Saw Posdanous at a club in ATL a few years ago and thanked him.


ben said...

the grooves on my LP copy of this (which i bought new probably ten years after i first heard this album) are warn down to nothing. still in heavy rotation and ALWAYS in the crate when i gig out. the list of "some" of the samples from the record on wikipedia is huge. Prince Paul knew how to dig.