Living To Music – De La Soul ‘3 Feet High And Rising’




YEAR: 1989

This Sunday (Dec 5th), at 9pm, you’re invited to share a listening session with some likeminded souls, wherever you might be. This can be experienced either alone or communally, and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your own home to participate. Full lowdown here:

The first time I heard ‘3 Feet High And Rising’ was when Ian Dewhirst, former head of 4th & Broadway Records in the UK, came to see me in Wembley, where I was living at the time, having just got back from a trip to the States. The album had just been issued in the US, and Ian felt it was something I needed to hear as a matter of urgency, given its anything goes approach, which put him in mind of the Ruthless Rap Assassins, who I was then managing and producing. Ian had been a big supporter of the Rap Assassins, and had planned to sign them for 4th & Broadway before he abruptly left the company in 1987 – he’d provided the demo budget for us to record what would be their vinyl debut, a limited white label coupling ‘We Don’t Care’ and ‘Kiss AMC’.

We eventually signed to EMI in ’88 and were waiting for the go-ahead to record their first LP (eventually released in 1990 as the ‘Killer Album’). I had the idea of making the album a continuous whole, with bridge sections between the tracks, which was exactly the approach that De La Soul had taken. Although the vibe was different to what we were doing, it was clear that in many respects we were kindred spirits. I very much regarded it as confirmation that we were moving in the right direction (something EMI were unsure off).

I was blown-away by ‘3 Feet High’ and took a cassette into EMI the next day to play to our A&R man, but, it must be said, it received a much more muted reception than I’d expected. Take into account that this was before De La Soul had been acclaimed as the Hip Hop pioneers we now know them to be – the album Ian had brought round was very much hot off the presses. A few months down the line, when it was almost universally acknowledged as a seminal work, I’m sure he was somewhat embarrassed by his initial indifference when I’d excitedly brought it into his office. (‘Voodoo Ray’ by A Guy Called Gerald, a friend and neighbour of the Assassins, had received a similar unimpressed response when I’d suggested he sign it).

I remember that, apart from an abundance of excellent tracks on the album, I was hugely impressed by its seemingly couldn’t care less attitude, summed up by the fact that you could even hear the crackles on some of the records they’d sampled, which I thought was brilliant (later this wouldn’t be unusual, but it certainly stood out then). With its own unique colour and texture, ‘3 Feet High’ was packed full of knockabout fun without falling into frivolity – Prince Paul’s production ripping up the rule book.

In the UK, along with ‘The Stone Roses’, it caught the mood of the times perfectly, providing a lasting testament to the second summer of love, and instantly evoking those tripped-out vibes of ‘89 for anyone who experienced them directly, although the crew themselves rejected the hippie tag they’d been labelled with from the outset (the album was hailed as rap’s ‘Sgt Pepper’s’), taking a more cynical stance subsequently.

Ian Dewhirst, who’d started out as DJ Frank on the Northern Soul scene back in the ’70s, would go on to launch the highly influential Mastercuts series of classic dance compilations in the early ’90s, and has continued to share his special brand of musical passion ever since, most recently via the Backbeats series on Harmless Records.

Your own memories are always welcomed, and, should you join us for Sunday’s session,  it’d be great if you could leave a comment here after you’ve listened to the album sharing your impressions – how the music affected you, who you listened to it with, where you were, plus anything else relevant to your own individual / collective experience.

3 Feet High And Rising Wikipedia:

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15 Responses to Living To Music – De La Soul ‘3 Feet High And Rising’

  1. dancing james November 30, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    I am really looking forwards to revisiting this one.

    Its an album that was just around me when I was growing up, so many friends had copies that I never got one for myself. yet there are tracks that I still know inside out.

  2. Danny Berman December 1, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    This was such an important album for me whilst trying to remain sane growing up in a Scottish fishing village. I can recite pretty much the whole thing if it’s being played. For me the most seminal hip hop album ever. It still sounds just a fresh now. Plus it’s PARTY music. It’s a great party album. Even if its just people sitting around and chatting rather than dancing, it provides a great backdrop.

    I had the honour of interviewing Maseo for an hour in 2003 and it was amazing to hear his tales of the albums production. He used to get the train to school but then get off at the next stop and get on a train to the opposite direction into the city where the studio was. He cut class for a year. One day he came into school and got called to the headmasters office. His mother was there. It looked bad….but it turned out that it was to get permission for him to go on tour in Europe! I could go on…

    (I have actually got the whole interview on a dictaphone tape too. Would be great to put it online sometime…)

    How many times did the batmobile catch a flat?

  3. brett December 5, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    looking forward to this, fantastic album
    early night then up at midnight our time to hit 9pm your time..
    baghdad will be tuning in then dropping out.

  4. phil hongkins December 5, 2010 at 10:53 pm #

    nice one greg , this album came along at a bad time for me it was chokka@ the pier the little fella was on one , my head was up my arse , constant battles as i tried to explain to him why we needed to fly for the friday nites even though the no”s were good, also the music policy was in a state of flux my djs liked the piano/italian arms in the air but the scouse contingent in the pier wanted techno hardcore anything faster etc i didnt think they could be ignored as they brought so much energy to the night.so i took on lee turner who brought in a more techno style with him, then malc turned up @ mine n said “ere man this is for you ” he gave me the aformentioned 3ft high n rising picture disc an of i went it was just so chilled,headbouncin,funny, allover the place, mad tunes. but it sat me down and a few good nites started in my house with that album an usually ended up @ als burger van 3 or 4 am . no where near as in ur face as NWA or PUBLIC ENEMY but as important as gansta rap they all knew the score, cheers greg thats wot it means to me phil

  5. Brian E December 6, 2010 at 12:07 am #

    Until tonight Ihad never heard this album and was instantly blown away by the grooves and rhythm. Loved the sounds of the drum loops and enjoyed the whole vibe of the album. Enjoyed the bizarre organ show bizzy opening which was totally unexpected and love that kind of humour. Would love to know some more about where all the Sampled material came from. There were bits I recognised, most of it I didn’t but would love to find out more. There’s so much going on it’s impossible to take it all in on first listen.

    Gonna have to listen to this again soon!

  6. greg wilson December 6, 2010 at 3:34 am #

    Here’s their ‘who sampled’ entry. There are 4 pages covering the album.

    Listening back for the first time in ages I was very much struck by their command of rhythm, especially given that they were hardly seasoned recording artists (it’s the first Living To Music selection that’s been a debut LP, the previous four were by experienced artists at the peak of their powers). Fresh in the true sense of the word.

  7. Cezza December 6, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    What a blast of an album, pure quality as well as quantity, this brought back great memories for me of the music I was so loving at the time, although I have never heard this album, Im now delighted to be introduced to it and it will now be one of the ultimate favourites for the rest of my years. I was an album that made me dance dance dance even if it was just in my imagination but imagination is limitless so I was in reality there without any physical boundaries. Always loved rap for its pushy rythmic energy and the grooves on this album hit all the right spots. The levels and input into this album are enormous, now we are searching through all the samples used throughout and placing them, another Living to Music success, thank you again Gregga.

  8. Dan Soulsmith December 6, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    I was introduced to this album through art. While at university I was given an open essay brief; to write about any current art topic. This was 1997 and at the time the fine artist Chris Ofili was exhibiting his work at the Whitworth Art Gallery here in Manchester. I knew nothing about Chris Ofili, but through my research I discovered his passion for hip hop and how this music, the sampling techniques and hip hop culture had directly and so heavily influenced his artwork. One of his favourite artists and albums was De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising, so I bought the album on CD straight after visiting the exhibition, and wrote my essay while listening to it.

    Chris Ofili went on to win the Turner prize in 1998. http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/chrisofili/default.shtm

    I’ve since listened to the album countless times, but not as much recently, so last night was a chance to air my recent charity shop vinyl purchase. It was such a buzz to find that fantastic album sleeve jump out from all the usual dross.

    I love all the tunes on this album, but I do find the quiz show interludes a little annoying, but I still think it’s a great album! It is original, playful, positive and honest, and uses masterful sampling and production. I’ve since enjoyed discovering the original tunes of those sampled on this album, often by chance, because in my case I heard such flavours through this recording first.

  9. Matt December 7, 2010 at 7:44 am #

    I remember buying this on vinyl when it first came out, I’d never heard of them and had just walked out of Groove Records in London’s Soho to go in to the supermarket over the road. The guy in the shop there was a Hip Hop head who saw my record bag and asked if it was 3 Feet High and Rising, when I said no (I think it was Young MC – Bust a Move) he went on to big it up & told me that everyone was buying it so not being one to miss out I trundled back in and asked them to play a bit for me.
    I was instantly blown away by the seamless album, the game show interludes (reminiscent of Cheech & Chong’s Big Bambu), the humour, the varied samples, the quality of production & the intelligence. For me Hip Hop had begun to get stale and this album really blew some of the cobwebs from it. I was an instant convert and told everyone I knew to get themselves a copy.
    This album also opened my eyes to Queen Lattifa, Monie Love, Jungle Brothers & A Tribe Called Quest who had all joined hands as Native Tongue.
    I also remember at the time there was a great conspiracy theory that the vinyl album was pressed with the volume so low to get people to buy CDs (nowt to do with the sheer length of the album being pressed on a single record).
    Thanks to the production quality of De La Soul, 1989 also marked the release of another one of my favourite Hip Hop albums, The Beastie Boys – Pauls Boutique, another album that I still listen to quite regularly.

  10. Alexis December 8, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    I found so many links to musicians now and over the past decades on this album, the samples and loops reminding me of what Will.I.Am is trying to do (not always successfully imho!).
    I didn’t engage as well with this album as the previous ones, maybe my brain wasn’t in the right place and the jumping from one sample to another, quite honestly, didn’t do it for me.
    I was waiting for an entire track without interruption, which i did get as the tracks went by.
    There were 4 tracks that blew my mind and made me dance like a loon, so thank you x

  11. Moritz December 8, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    Actually I knew most of the songs and of course the samples… I listened to the full album only a few month ago and really liked it. It’s now one of my favourite albums. I just think that the cover of the album looks ugly.
    I listened to it at alone at home in Zurich (Switzerland), for the Bowie Album next week I’ll try to organize a little get together at my place. Thanks for this wonderful idea.



  12. Lou Lou December 9, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    Been feeling poorly all day but was looking forward to relaxing listening to this album, which turned out not to be one to relax too! I realised many of my friends must have had this album as i recognised much of it and on the most part really loved it.
    I didn’t want to keep still and didn’t have much choice as I had a wriggler sat next to me (Mr TC!!). I loved the depth of the sound and as Greg had said the crackles you could hear on some of the samples. The humour was one of the things that I hadn’t expected but really enjoyed although I didn’t feel like I really connected with the subject matter. But I reckon that’s one of the true values of music that makes us look outside our own experiences.
    Still relishing in the fact that we’re all partaking in this at the same time. Still getting tingles every time that hits me.
    So looking forward to the next – Wowie Bowie 😉
    Thanks again G.

  13. gina December 13, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    Another sound choice and great fun to listen to. The album still makes me want to start a party (but I’ve never quite worked out how to dance to it convincingly!)

    In the late 80s I was getting into acid jazz a lot (especially the Illicit Grooves and Freedom Principle albums) and somehow what De La Soul were doing seemed to take this play with genres in the right direction but I confess that it was being played so much around me, I never bought the album when it first came out. These guys make music and hip hop fun, in the way that US3 did for me, or A. Skillz does now.

    Standout tracks during the listening experience for me were, weirdly, the ones I was unfamiliar with before, like the French lesson skit which made me think of Serge Gainsbourg, and the one about body odour! I don’t know why, must be the silly mood it put me in. We listened to it with Cosmo at The Hanbury Arms and I was sitting directly facing the little green exit sign man – Somehow his running pose made me think of uni club night flyers and parties again. Good memories! Quirky album and like the good man says “you may try to subtract it, but it just won’t go away”. Thanks to Greg and Cosmo for making my Sundays happen.

  14. benny December 15, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    well what can i say : saw the call to listen at 9pm knew i wouldnt but still ordered the cd off the internet. the cd has a bonus disc of b sides and never before released tracks. played it and continue to play it to death in the car. my kids like it especially the i told you my name is jeff kid rapper.
    funny how i have recently been re exposed to this song does not contain explicit lyrics but the thought is erotic by some dj who shall remain anonymous.
    after hearing it on the (pirate) radio i bought “jenifah” on vinyl back in the day from the record shop on goldhawk road, shepherds bush. i have my suspicions as to who took it but the fact remains it got took/stolen/borrowed. i no longer won the vinyl. this album is part of the soundtrack of my youth. end of. even went to see them at brixton academy with the girl who would become my wife and even she dug it.

  15. Gavin Kendrick December 18, 2010 at 9:11 pm #

    My first encounter with the music of De La Soul was in 2002 during a visit to Liverpool’s infamous 3 Beat (now 3B) Records. I had been buying house 12″s for the last two years and, aged 17, had just started my first residency on Wednesday nights at Mosquito in Liverpool. The club was known for playing a commercial but credible spectrum of soul, funk, disco, house and R&B. I knew at the time that I was probably too young to take the gig, but I lied about my age, passed as 21, and set out to broaden my musical knowledge beyond the US soulful house I had fallen in love with.

    I explained my predicament to Thomas Tuft, the house buyer at 3 Beat Records, and he took me under his wing and fed me a weekly supply of essential cuts. My musical direction wouldn’t have taken the direction it did if it wasn’t for his guiding influence during the next few years – for this I’m deeply grateful. It was a time I remember fondly: spending every spare hour immersed in these newly discovered classics.

    One of the first non-house 12″s he put my way was the ninth installment of the German Groove Collection bootleg series. On the first side was De La Soul’s ‘All Good’ and Eric B. and Rakim’s ‘Paid In Full’, and on the flip was Run-DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’ and De La Soul’s ‘Say No Go’, which of course features on 3 Feet High And Rising.

    ‘All Good’ was the pick of these classics for me, and I remember it being a highlight of groundbreaking Liverpool DJ Robin Jackson’s set the first time I heard him spin. Before long, thanks to a couple more bootleg 12″s and some second-hand finds in Bold Street’s Hairy Records, ‘Magic Number’, ‘Eye Know’, ‘Say No Go’, and ‘Me Myself And I’ became staple selections in my weekly five hour sets at Mosquito.

    Last night was the first time I’d listened to 3 Feet High And Rising in full, despite knowing the aforementioned tracks inside out. As I’d previously discovered with Jill Scott’s debut, hearing familiar tracks in the context of their parent album can offer a much richer listening experience.

    The humour, carefree attitude, and slick delivery is still as vibrant as ever, but more immediately noticeable to me was Prince Paul’s production. It still sounds fresh, standing tall against any new hip hop long player in recent memory.

    Greg mentioned in his introductory post how cutting edge it was to hear the vinyl crackle in his samples, a stylistic technique that’s a given in the school of jazz-inspired beat makers who came after. I will admit to verging into fanboy territory when it comes to Madlib, Stones Throw’s star signing, and it’s fascinating to be able to trace another strand of the hip hop lineage that leads to his contemporary flair.

    Thanks Greg for this insight, and for hosting my favourite Living To Music so far!

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