A Music Critic In 2016 Listens To De La Soul’s Classic 1989 Debut Album For The First Time

Why are the 3 Feet Rising, and what can we do to stop it?

This weekend, the beloved rap group De La Soul will be performing in New York City as part of the Governors Ball festival. The highly influential '90s act also just released "Pain," a new single featuring Snoop Dogg, in advance of their first album in over a decade, And the Anonymous Nobody. My colleagues tell me that "Pain" is "mad good" and "so dope" and, "Seriously, David, listen to this song." Now, all of that is cool and awesome, but personally I found it hard to form an opinion on "Pain," since I have never heard a complete De La Soul album. Nothing personal — I just never got around to it. To fix this problem, my editors kindly suggested — or, I guess, technically, told me, since I work for them — that I should spend today listening to De La Soul's classic Tommy Boy Records debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, and cataloguing my thoughts below. Please be warned: I talk a lot about yoga, bagels, and A Tribe Called Quest. Sorry!

0:45 — Game shows are chill, but I'm not sure how cool it is to make one the opening skit to a rap album. I’m not exactly clear on the setup of the show, and that’s making me nervous about how much I’m already missing about this album. I also just ate a bagel with cream cheese and my stomach feels weird.

3:46 — I’m growing increasingly stressed. No one’s announced their name, nor have there been any distinctive ad libs to tell these dudes apart. I know 1989 didn’t have emojis, but it would be nice if there was some marker of who's who — like if one had a real nasally voice or something? "The Magic Number" is fun, but it's also super-super-sample-based, which I know is real hip-hop, but feels so distant to what I enjoy about the genre in 2016. The stuff I like is all about instrumentals and ad libs that come closer to contemporary EDM than old-school rap.

6:15 — Holy shit, I regret eating this bagel.

9:10 — I’ve def heard "Can U Keep a Secret," and I don’t like it. I can be pretty hard to please with certain musical aesthetics, and rap music prior to ‘92 — the year I was born, of course — is something I’ve struggled with a lot in my life. Too often, going that far back can feel like a chore. Even classics from 2 Live Crew can sound too dated for me, and that’s just a drum machine and offensive lyrics, which in theory I should be all about.

16:26 - Not to stay fixated on the samples on the record, but I cannot get out of my head just how not rap this album sounds. Obviously there is a lot of rapping, and it’s pretty fine ("Ghetto Thang"), but all the samples and references give a real vibe of a sound collage. Maybe it’s the bagel I ate that is upsetting my stomach, but the duct-tape-and-glue nature of the album is distracting.

23:48 — Now we're in a skit where they just yell about taking different clothes, shoes, and hairstyles off, for some reason?

26:58 — There are so many more songs to go. :upside-down smiley face emoji:

35:00 — "Say No Go" is fun, I guess. I’m about halfway through with this album and I cannot wait for it to end. De La Soul is no Major Lazer.

Yesterday after yoga class, the teacher, who is new to the studio, asked if there was anything he might do to help with the class. I mentioned that the music was loud and could’ve been a bit softer. He replied back that it didn’t seem too loud to him, and that it was even soft compared to other classes. What I said back at that point was something that had been running through my head through the whole class — I spend all day sitting at a desk listening to music, and the last thing I want at the end of the day is to be stuck in a small room focusing on my breathing as more music blasts into my ears. This electric tour of 3 Feet High and Rising is offering a quick reminder of how much music I’ve never heard, and how much music I’ve just accepted that I probably won’t let into my life. I have a professional obligation to be familiar with music both new and old, so listening to De La Soul is worthwhile for sure. Still, forced music listening always places me in an awkward position, where I feel less like I'm engaging with an artist's creative work and more like I'm doing a homework assignment. I can complete the task, but isn't music also supposed to elicit an emotional response?

Meanwhile, back in De La World ...

38:42 — There is a bunch of yelling happening and, like, nah. I’m gonna listen to "Real Love" by Mary J. Blige for a little bit.

This song is one part house anthem and another part sad new jack swing. I cannot even pretend to think of a better combination of genres. The keyboard riff, the chunky drums and that hook are all so so so so sweet. But sadly I must return back to De La World.

39:16 — This album makes Views sound like a Ramones album. Jesus Christ, there is another skit.

41:46 — The bagel I ate earlier was a mistake. Also: Maybe it's strange that I’ve never really given much time to De La Soul, because I looooove A Tribe Called Quest, and I certainly hear a lot of them here. But Tribe songs are so much tighter. They don’t meander in the same way these tracks do ("Plug Tunin’ (Last Chance to Comprehend)"). "De La Orgee" was stupid in the way all rap sex skits are garbage, which is assuming that sex sounds and jokes are going to be funny in the middle of an album rather than best left on the recording room floor. Then again, I might just be a prude. Please let me know at @_davidturner_ on Twitter dot com.

45:50 — Q-Tip! Wow, his voice is so calming in this nonsense. "Buddy" is the first song that I can say I enjoy. It also sounds exactly like it could just be a lesser Tribe song. I made a vegan hot dog for lunch — just thought that y'all should know.

52:38 — "Me, Myself and I" is back to the bullshit of too many obvious samples, a thin hook, and accenting too many moments with little vocal effects that could be novel if they weren’t already used over the last 50 minutes of retreading the same ideas.

1:02:54 — Holy shit, the game show is still happening. The announcer says to mail the record label’s address, which is fucking insane, but kind of cool. Remember physical mail? Records? Postal addresses? Flesh? Corporeal bodies? Any of that stuff?

Perhaps I’ll give De La Soul another listen someday. I can feel the roots of music I should enjoy, but it just didn’t connect today. Right now, I’m gonna go listen to ATC’s eurodance classic "Around the World" and keep praying for the weekend.

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