De La Soul – Three Feet High And Rising (Tommy Boy/Warner Bros., 1989)

One quarter of a century down the road that has been hip-hop’s journey from its
golden era to boom-bap selling pretzels in Rold Gold commercials, De La Soul’s
debut is holding up very well, thank you. It was a watershed moment in rap, only
partly thanks to the fresh stylings of members Posdnuos, Trugoy the Dove and
Pasemaster Mase. Their “Daisy Age” style and the era it beckoned arrived fully
formed, and had the three eschewing standard profanity and boasting for positivity
and inclusiveness. (The closest they get to shock rap here is referring to a female as
a “garden tool”, and only facetiously—not exactly a tact shared by contemporaries
NWA or 2 Live Crew.) Before the 90’s brought In Living Color, Do the Right Thing
and Cross Colors overalls, the three young wordsmiths, backed by initiate Prince
Paul, represented one of the most vibrant movements in the much smaller hip-hop
universe at the time, and America in general. Prince Paul, who produced the
entirety of the album and its many template-setting interludes, deservedly has been
immortalized for his deft filtering of samples through a rose-tinted lens. Whereas
the Bombsquad, responsible for building Public Enemy’s early and best beats out of
gnarly funk breaks, created a minefield for Chuck D to issue commands over, PP
stitched together a picnic blanket of sound. Never do the tracks threaten to taken
center stage, but rather embrace each vocalist in a supportive hug. Seriously.
Whether it be “The Magic Number”, “Eye Know” or “Buddy” (featuring fellow Native
Tongues members Jungle Brothers and Q-Tip), the love is palpable and the rhyme
delivery and production, positively lofty. Twenty-five years on, this near-perfect
introduction to De La is still rising.

Vincent Zed

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