I had a conversation with my Dad recently where he was lamenting the fact that he doesn’t grok rap. I mean, he’s generally really savvy on music; he’s where I generally learned many of my own music cues, from Beatles, to Rolling Stones, to DC5, to Sam & Dave, to Joe Cocker, I mean, the musical heritage he’s handed his first-born goes to the planet’s core. But when it comes to hip-hop, the closest he can claim is a fandom I’ve always thought odd of a little song called “No Diggity.”
Not like I am the biggest rap fan in the world. I’m usually five years late to the hip-hop party, only recently having a grudging appreciation for The Chronic. And I don’t ever think I’ll come around on acts like Migos. But open up a can of Sage Francis or Cadence Weapon and I’m in. I have my proclivities in rap. My DOD, he just doesn’t.
One can’t fault a guy of his generation if he’s never turned on to Earl Sweatshirt or Casey Veggies. My class had the advantage of MTV and Run DMC, whose “Walk This Way” with Aerosmith cut the meat up for us white kids when it came to hip-hop. Then I got ahold of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back from the Kent Free Library and wore it out. But the truth is, the thing that really sealed my appreciation for hip-hop was a little recording called 3 Feet High and Rising.
It doesn’t hurt that the first tune samples Schoolhouse Rock. It may be that this familiarity, this. nostalgia for my then erstwhile Saturday morning cartoon habit is what fishes me in.
Then comes “Change in Speak.” Who thinks to sample the Mad Lads circa 1969? De La. That’s who. And to fantastic effect.
There was a time when the driving aesthetic in hip-hop wasn’t bravado or spectacle, but cleverness, a certain poetry, even, and/or a moral consciousness. De La Soul with 3 Feet High just plain invents their own world, then winks at you and lets you in on the joke. Oh. I get it. DAISY is an acronym. Trugoy is Plug Two, and his name is “yogurt” spelled backward. I get it.
There is a quirkiness, a nerdiness to this combo that makes me want to sit down with them and have a MGD. The imagery of a song like “Potholes in my Lawn,” they playfulness of “Tread Water,” the hit “Me Myself and I,” it’s just a fact: 3 Feet High and Rising is a masterpiece.
Village Voice called it the “Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop.” It was Rolling Stone’s fifth top album of the year; #10 for Melody Maker. Billboard had it at #1 on the R&B/Hip hop chart and #24 in the Top 200. In 2020, it was #103 on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time. Macy Gray called De La Soul the “Beatles of hip-hop.”
Which is not to say that De La’s genius ended there. The fellas reacted to their hot success with 3 Feet High in its second rap classic, De La Soul is Dead. They spat on Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.”, which netted them their only Grammy.
And, do not get me started on their majestic collaboration with spoken word artist Gina Loring, “Royalty Capes,” which makes one feel as if he must bow his head in deference. That, their last album, 2016’s And The Anonymous Nobody…, was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rap Album category.
I’ve had De La on the brain a lot these days as the fellas are experiencing a bit of a rebirth. Legal issues have long kept much of their catalog inaccessible on streaming platforms, but we’re soon to be knee-deep in De La as of March 3. In fact, they were the act I mentioned to my Dear Old Dad in that conversation. Mentioned that I was looking forward to them existing on Spotify. Mentioned 3 Feet High. Mentioned how sublime they were.
Thus, how sad it was to learn that David Jolicoeur, Trugoy the Dove, recently stopped refusing to die. Three was the magic number. Losing just one of these three fellas is a real shame, especially as their music was about to become available to a whole new audience.