Melody Maker | Album | 18 March 1989
DE LA SOUL
3 FEET HIGH AND RISING
Tommy Boy / Big Life
There's so much to say that it's hard to know where to start, but "Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)" is perhaps the best introduction to the world of De La Soul. It's a sexual adventure that begins with a savage scratch and a few James Brown whoops, giving way to a variation
of the "Funky Drummer" beat, r&b guitars, keyboards and brass. Nothing very different from a thousand other hip hop tracks? Go on, say it. I did. But suddenly, in the middle of a verse, comes a shout of "now wait a minute" and the song is lost for 10 seconds or so. In the interim, somebody called Derwin hammers chopsticks out of a piano. I found it impossible to hold back a smile.
De La Soul are Trugoy, Posdnuos and Mase, three rappers from Brooklyn whose interpretation of their chosen genre has been labelled hippy hop on account of their preference for CND signs to gold medallions, for dishing out daisies to upholding a def image, for absurdity to negativity. But the word hippy, with its retrospective connotations, is hardly appropriate. "3 Feet High And Rising", De La Soul's 70-minute long, 24-track debut LP, issued in America by Tommy Boy last year, selling out in import shops here within days, and now available as a UK release, is juicy fresh. Slurp. I'll wager you've never heard hip hop like this before.
Throughout, there are hilarious oddities, whistles, whizzes, off-beats delayed for a split second, the flicking of a Jew's harp, the plucking of violin strings, descending notes tongued from a kazoo. Some tracks are over in under 100 quick snaps of the finger – quirky pieces such as "De La Orgee", a crude chorus of grunts, groans, oohs and aahs, the Love Unlimited Orchestra low in the mix, and "Cool Breeze On The Rocks", which is a hotch-potch of samples. "Transmitting Live From Mars" is a couple of French phrases repeated to a mournful accompaniment and "Do As De La Does" is a series of wild calls and replies that dissolve as the LP's producer, Stetasonic's Prince Paul, screams four-letter words.
The trio's current single, "Me, Myself And I", is no less restrained, though in a different sense. It's a raw and raucous thump of rumbling p-funk, with a swell swell of keyboards and ripples of guitars wrapping the rap into a delightful package. Think of slipping on nicely warmed underwear on a frosty morning. The likes of "Eye Know" and "Change In Speak" are go-go goos, squashed through a sieve. "Say No Go" is thickened r&b, while "Buddy", which features The Jungle Brothers, and "D.A.I.S.Y. Age" are more overtly soulful. Many of the songs' overlaying atmosphere conflict with the ever present hip hop rhythms.
"Tread Water" is pure surrealism – talking fish in the toilet bowl, crocodiles with flowers in their hats, that kind of thing – and the same could be said of "Potholes In My Lawn". Daisies crop up here too. Of course. Only with "Ghetto Thing" does the temptation to freak the beat meet with total resistance. It's sleazy and funky, a bitch of a true life story of pimping and dealing, gang shootings, crumbling buildings and 14-year-old mothers. It's a precise articulation and a vicious condemnation of ghetto pains.
De La Soul are intent on stirring a stagnant pool. They are an invigorating gust of clean air, blowing away the stupid cliches and traditions that other rappers have long clung to, desperately, out of a lack of anything more imaginative. "3 Feet High And Rising" is not simply an exercise in flippancy and the opulent musical textures, the occasional sharp insights, the unqualified joy, the perfect thrill of it all, gives this LP far more than a novelty value. It's one of the finest hip hop records ever released. Welcome to the Daisy Age.