De La Soul 3 Feet High And Rising (Tommy Boy, 1989)

by Joshua B. Hoe

All Time Albums Series

Okay, feel a bit bad about including this album because the rumor has always been that De La Soul hates it.

It is not my favorite De La album (De La Soul "Is Dead" holds that place in my heart) but it is/was the most important De La album in terms of impact.

But, as much as they might hate it, it was a groundbreaking album that planted hip-hops flag in a much broader territory.


Many people said at the time that it was an attempt to broaden Hip-Hops appeal and that it was an attempt to be "softer" (read whiter).

Truth, it was a statement that hip-hop could colonize anything, use anything, be anything - it could make Hall and Oates cooler (Say No Go), it could plug-tune from the moon, it could even make fun of itself (the skits).

Plus, as Ice-T pointed out in Home Invasion, white kids liked Gangster Rap just fine.

It still holds up really well today, and still sounds fresh.

There is another reason I hate to include this album (sigh) - I have "met" De La Soul twice (once right after the release of this album) and neither meeting went very well for me.

De La Story Number 1

So around summer of 89 or 90, I was flying into LaGuardia from Missouri (some debate thing) to see relatives in NYC (I was born in NYC).

I sat down and noticed some absurdly cool looking girls were seated behind me, then I noticed some absurdly cool looking guys walk and sit down in the aisle with them.

Like way cooler than anyone I hang out with.

But, like I do in most situations where I am around much cooler people, I just tried to escape into my bubble.

I grabbed my backpack and pulled out the magazines I had purchased to read on the flight.

The first magazine I had purchased was either Spin or Rolling Stone and had a group called De La Soul on the cover, a hip-hop act that I had never heard of.

But it was a group I had seen.

Because they were sitting right behind me on the plane (the girls were De La Souls dancers, as I would later learn while watching them on television).

Yup, that was my introduction to De La, but I still hadn't met them (I didn't have the guts to turn around and introduce myself...yet).

It gets worse.

Once we arrived, we all were sitting at the baggage claim for what seemed like an hour (this was back when people actually checked bags because the airlines did not charge for them unless you had extras).

At some point, despite that I had only read one article about them (on the flight I was sitting in front of them), despite the fact that I had not heard one song, I decided to introduce myself.

It went about like you would imagine, I had nothing good to say because all I knew was from an article. They could not care less about me, for obvious reasons.

The crazy thing is they were really nice about having literally no reason to talk to me (sigh).

At least it was a short conversation.

Well, despite this, I immediately purchased 3 Feet High And Rising, and because it is an amazing record, listened to it like a billion times.

De La Story 2

So cut to many years later, I am the Assistant Director of Debate at Arizona State University and one of my assistant coaches is also a huge hip-hop head (turned me on to Common when he was still Common Sense).

One of our habits was to attend virtually all of the local hip-hop shows and we see that De La Soul is playing.

We both love De La so we buy tickets and head to the show.

I think this was the tour after Stakes Is High was released.

One of the coolest things about a De La show, is if it is at all feasible, at least a few of the three of them tend to hang out in the crowd and watch the other acts (really cool IMHO).

* The other great thing De La does, before they come on stage, Maceo spins songs he likes for like 30 minutes prior to them taking the stage (also really cool) *

So, I am standing around, and (once again) they are like five feet from me.

And once again, I think this would be a great time to say something to them.

So, what do I say?

I tell them the LaGuardia story (sigh).

Yes, I decided it would be "funny" to tell them the exact same story they didn't care about then and most certainly did not care about now.

Again, they were very polite about not caring at all.

I think I crammed something in about thinking that Buhloone Mindstate was an underrated album (they seemed to think my opinion might not be considered particularly important to the albums success).

1st Larger lesson, just because you know of a band or act, it doesn't mean you have much to actually say to them.

Or as De La say on De La Soul Is Dead:

"What do you know about music hamster dick?"

2nd Larger lesson, you can like and care about someone's music, but that doesn't mean they will like you (like you like them).

3 Feet High And Rising

Anyway, if you haven't heard 3 Feet High and Rising lately, might give it another chance.

I suspect De La hated the album because they took so much shit about being "hippies" which to hard-core hip-hop fans in this period meant "soft."

I imagine they got tired of a million white people loving them (not at the bank) and being the hip-hop darlings of the alternative music press.

Now that said, it is still a great f'n album.

At times, the sampling is genius.

Just think about that Hall and Oates sample from "Say No Go" was insane, it changed the whole way I listened to that song from that point on.

My Myself and I, was a really cool statement and had a world class hook.

Three is the magic number, another crazy great hook.

And let's not even talk about Jennifer OHHHHHH Jenny.

This album will always sound like summer to me, like innovation to me, and like just the essence of totally laid back cool.

Still sounds great, check it out again.

The Grind Date by De La Soul uploaded by Joshua B. Hoe

One more bonus track - one of the greatest jams from around this same time period:

What do you think of Three Feet High and Rising? What is your favorite De La Soul album? Let me know what you think, leave a comment!