Friday, February 14, 2014

"3 Feet High and Rising" by De La Soul (HHES Review)

Here's my review of "3 Feet High and Rising" by De La Soul using the Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES).

The album that is credited with inventing the hip hop skit is also one of the best ever. Starting with the "Intro" and it's absurdist game show set-up, the skits all fit and work together in a humorous and entertaining way.

"The Magic Number" is one of my all time favorite songs, with it's mash-up of Johnny Cash, Schoolhouse Rock, and alternative rap. The song just totally encapsulates my state of mind in a way that few other songs ever do.

"Change in Speak" has one of the better beats on an album filled with perfect beats. You HAVE to dance when this comes on.

"Cool Breeze on the Rocks" is one of the more mainstream sonic experiments on the album, with its throwback to Grandmaster Flash "Wheels of Steel"-type of construction.

"Can U Keep a Secret" is maybe the funniest dis track ever, with its whispered vocals, its inside jokes that make outsiders laugh, and its creative use of words like "scrub" that me and my friends used to no end when we had this album on in constant rotation in 89-90.

"Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)" has the most compulsively danceable beat on the album, thrown in with adolescent sexual exploration, chopsticks and more of the amazing humor and eclecticism that dominates this album.

"Ghetto Thang" shows that De La can be serious, too, and take a look at social ills in a way that still makes you bob your head.

"Transmitting Live from Mars" was a revelation for me. The idea that you could take the Turtles and an old French instructional album and mash them together on a hip hop album changed the way I looked at the world.

"Eye Know" is one of the most danceable and original love songs ever. It's also one of the few times I haven't hated anything that had a Steely Dan connection.

"Take It Off" is another one of my all-time dis tracks, listing a series of cultural don'ts in a humorous and poetic structure that still makes me laugh 25 years later.

"A Little Bit of Soap" was another revelatory track for me. The basic topic was little more than a continuation of the previous track, criticizing people for less than perfect hygeine, but they did it to a Jarmels track that was always one of my favorite oldies and in a way that made me laugh endlessly.

"Tread Water" and "Potholes in My Lawn" are two companion songs, it seems, that really give you a look into the radically different way that De La looks at the world. Talking animals, "problems" that most people don't think about, and words that nobody else had used in that way at the time make these two unique pop culture elements, with one of them even being an MTV hit.

"Say No Go" shows that you can take something really out of what you would consider the norm for hip hop, a Hall & Oates sample, and make a amazingly compelling and entertaining song.

"Do as De La Does" is another interesting interlude, recreating the feel of a live De La soul with it's oddball call-and-response and the hilarious end rant by Popmaster Hight.

Even now, I'm not totally sure what "Plug Tunin' (Last Chance to Comprehend)" is talking about, but I know that the song still grabs at my heartstrings in a way I can't explain. It has a bluesy feel that you can't deny. The alternatve version that ends the album is one of the rare times that a different mix works well on an album and not as a bonus track, as it seems to close out the album on a note of completion and not just fading out.

"De La Orgee" is silly but once again is a track that you wouldn't expect on any album, much less this one, which keeps the surprisingness of the album going.

"Buddy" is an interesting enough take on De La's mythology, as it comes to women, but most importantly it has one of the few songs with outside vocalists on it, which works out great, since it's the Jungle Brothers and Q-Tip, who make just about any song better.

"Description" takes one of the common ideas in hip hop, the posse intro track, and does it with a style that fits this album, but probably doesn't fit anywhere else.

"Me Myself and I" has some of the best scratching and use of the backing track on any hip hop song ever and is a perfect introduction to the band (it was on the radio quite a bit).

"This Is a Recording 4 Living in a Fulltime Era (L.I.F.E.)" and "I Can Do Anything (Delacratic)" are a pretty good summary of the De La outlook on life. And they explain it in a unique way that still makes you want to dance.

"D.A.I.S.Y. Age" seems to continue the big description of the De La outlook on the world in the previous songs, although, it's hard to tell, since the lyrics are a little dense. Even Rap Genius doesn't have much to say about what the Plugs are talking about here. Either way, it sounds great.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 10. De La Soul's members have some of the most original and creative flows ever, and this is the album where they used them their best. They got enough negative feedback from some in the hip hop community that they changed things on later albums.

Lyrics: 10. While some of these lyrics are difficult to comprehend, they are totally unique, even amongst De La albums. There just aren't other lyrics like this anywhere, in any form of music or literature.

Message: 10. There are few more coherent messages in any form of music, much less hip hop. De La Soul presents their view of the world in such an entertaining and eclectic way they had no choice but to go in a different direction on their next album.

Technical: 10. I defy you to try to even understand most of the lyrics on this album, much less try to perform them aloud. Difficult stuff abounds.

Production: 10. Few albums have ever been more adventurous or original than this one, and the production, which always makes you want to dance, is a big part of that.

Versatility: 8. I could see how people who don't love this sound could find it a little repetitive, but even they would have a hard time denying the greatness within.

Collaborators: 10. Q-Tip. Prince Paul. The Jungle Brothers. That's all you need for a great album. And there's more.

History: 10. De La Soul knows more about music history than you do.

References: 10. De La Soul knows more about pop culture than you do.

Originality: 10. I'd be hard pressed to say that this album didn't invent originality.

Total Score: 98. This is, hands down, my all-time favorite hip hop album and maybe my favorite album ever. It changed the way I look at music, art, and the world. And I'm better off for it.

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