Yesterday (March 4), Native Tongues crew De La Soul celebrated the twenty fifth anniversary of the release of its debut album. 3 Feet High and Rising, the first of the group's three albums produced in conjunction with Prince Paul, was released March 3, 1989 and recorded the previous year in Brooklyn. The album set the tone for career's worth of the three-man Long Island group’s eclectic sampling, positive vibes and zany production.
3 Feet High and Rising only carries one song with featured emcees, Q-Tip and the Jungle Brothers on the record’s third single, “Buddy”—though a remix featured Native Tongues members Queen Latifah and Monie Love—and clocked in at 23 tracks long. Released in a year that also saw albums like the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, Biz Markie’s The Biz Never Sleeps, and Boogie Down Productions’ Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop, De La’s debut broke Posdnuos, Dave and Maseo onto a scene of hard-hitting and aggressively delivered Hip Hop.
Below is a press kit the group developed to promote the album on MTV and how 3 Feet High and Rising has fared over the years.
De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising Reviews Revisited
While the album fared well with reviewers upon its release, 3 Feet has since acted as a sort of critic’s darling among list-makers and magazines. In 1998, just shy of a decade removed from its release, the trio’s debut was included on The Source’s unnumbered list of the Top 100 Rap Albums of All Time. Rolling Stone also gave the record an official nod as an album worthy of its Rolling Stone 200, a list of Essential Rock albums over the years (3 Feet High and Rising featured in the list’s 80s Era section). Rolling Stone again considered the album in its even more coveted 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2003, in that case placing the album at #346.
In 2011, writing a nostalgic retrospective for The Guardian, reviewer Saptarshi Ray called the release a break from the “macho posturing of much rap” that characterized many Hip Hop releases of the day. “This album heralded the Daisy age (DA Inner Sound Y'all) of Hip Hop and, despite its more experimental forays that still continue 22 years later, De La Soul sounded at their best when they were young, fearless and just a little clueless,” he wrote. “It's perhaps as much a nostalgia for their youth as mine that makes it my favourite album.”
More recently, Billboard described the record as “ the beginning of Hip Hop's middle class” and “among the finest projects spawned by the Native Tongue-affiliated acts.”
De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising Singles & Awards
Predating the inclusion of many Hip Hop categories in award ceremonies like the Grammy’s, 3 Feet High and Rising served up several successful single releases for the group. Perhaps as iconic as the Toby Mott and Paul Spencer-designed cover art itself, hits like “Me Myself and I” shot up the domestic and international charts. That song, which acted as the album’s second single, has since come to characterize the group’s style for many fans. It peaked at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles and at #34 on the Billboard Hot 100. The official video accompanying “Me Myself and I” is available below.
The album’s singles were distributed differently based on location, but the group’s American debut single was “Plug Tunin’,” a remix of which appears on the final tracklisting of 3 Feet High and Rising. Another single, "Buddy," featured a remix that included verses from Queen Latifah, Monie Love and A Tribe Called Quest rapper Phife Dawg (hence his "Buddy, buddy, buddy" reference on "Award Tour"). The video for "Buddy" is available below.
In 2011, the release was selected as one of twenty-five albums added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. The album was chosen alongside records from Al Green and Professor Longhair.
De La Soul Since 3 Feet High and Rising
With its first three albums executive produced by Prince Paul, De La and the former Stetsasonic deejay enjoyed both commercial and critical success following 3 Feet High and Rising with De La Soul Is Dead, released in 1991, and Buhloone Mindstate, from 1993. De La Soul Is Dead also featured on The Source’s list of 100 Best Rap albums and received a five mic rating from the publication. In 1993, the group’s Buhloone Mindstate featured extensive appearances from Jazz artists like Maceo Parker and Fred Weasley alongside emcees like Guru, Dres and Biz Markie.
The group’s consistent release schedule throughout the early 1990s waned following its 1996 album Stakes Is High. With the bulk of the production handled by the group themselves, J Dilla pulled an early career production credit on that album’s self-titled single. With features from Common and Mos Def, Stakes Is High was the first album sans Prince Paul and the group’s least commercially successful record to that point.
Since its lauded ‘90s material, De La continued to release music throughout the 2000s and beyond with albums like Art Official Intelligence and The Grind Date. In 2004, the group won its first Grammy award—after being nominated three times—for its collaboration with the Gorillaz on “Feel Good Inc.” In 2012, two thirds of the group returned with another concept album, First Serve.
“While it doesn’t quite fall into the upper echelon where Prince Paul and Deltron 3030’s masterpieces reside,” HipHopDX’s review reads, “First Serve is an extraordinary listen. The album is replete with humor, drama, and a satisfying sense of duality and resolution. This project proves that, in 2012, the Rock Opera is alive and well.”