Nightman Listens To – De La Soul – 3 Feet High And Rising (Top 1000 Albums Series)

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard. As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go.

To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

Greetings, Glancers! I know it’s been a while, but once again the enemy scourge has meant my time to relax and criticize classic albums has been severely limited. But on this crisp late autumn night, it just so happens that I have some time to kill; so lets get to the killing.

What I Know About De La Soul: Aside from the name, and a few vague recollections, I don’t really know anything. I know they have been around since the 80s, and I know they are a rap/soul/R’n’B act. Did they have a female singer, or a famous song where a woman sings? Yeah, I’m clutching at straws.

What I Know About 3 Feet High And Rising: Not a thing. I’ve never heard of the album, but if it’s in the Top 1000, I’ll assume I’ll recognise at least one song. Maybe….

Intro: Wow, I didn’t realise there were so many songs. I’m assuming, like this intro, that a few will be spoken word skits. This is in the vein of a cheesy gameshow poking fun at… idiots. It’s all very funny and unusual, though the production, on the version I’m listening to, is a little tinny. Will we return to this gameshow?

The Magic Number: Well, of course, everyone knows this. Isn’t this a Beck song? Oh well, Beck is for Hipsters. He’s probably in the Top 1000 list somewhere. This song always irratated me a little, though I’ve never listened to it properly before. The rhymes come thick and fast and I imagine it would take a few listens to fully absorb the lyrics. On first listen I’ve no idea what it’s all about. A fine song, obviously a hit, though musically it’s a little too bare, all percussion and not a lot else.

Change In Speak: Now this sounds familiar too, but I don’t know if it’s because the intro is maybe a sample? I get a James Brown feel from it. Again, the lyrics are dense and it’s not easy to follow them on the first turn. It’s funky once again, it’s a little bare once again, maybe it’s the production, but aside from the brass and the odd little flurry, it feels a little too quiet. No complaints though, I’m just being picky.

Cool Breeze On The Rocks: A blast of samples and weirdness, plenty of pieces I recognise, all a bit weird and pointless, and a little blast of the gameshow quips again.

Can U Keep A Secret: Whispering and funk, people needing haircuts. I’ve heard these lines being quoted before, either in a meme, or from a friend in some drunken conversation. These are important secrets, keep them to yourself. Not much to say about this.

Jennifa Told Me: An interesting one, with a lot more going on musically, not a lot of empty space here. A song about a girl, I guess, told in tongue in cheek style and with a deliberately off-tune series of notes. This one is vaguely familiar, and then it all takes a turn for the weird with a bizarro interlude, all good. I’ve probably heard this in a club or at a party, but paid it no mind.

Ghetto Thang: I don’t recognise this one. Again, it’s difficult to catch the lyrics as I’m listening and typing at the same time, but seems to be satirical, and critical of slum life and dreams. More percussion and squeezed beats, noises, and things that I’m sure have correct terms within the genre but that I have no interest to learn. It’s definitely one to move to

Transmitting Live From Mars: French nonsense. Samples apparently from the cassettes they used to use in my French classes in school. I recognise the music, but not enough to tell if it’s a sample or not.

Eye Know: Yes, I know this one, obviously. Again, this one would have annoyed me when I was younger, but I must be more tolerant these days. The whistling part in particular would have pissed me off greatly, now it’s just a thing. It’s a fine song, another one I expect I would be quite happy to sway to if I was under the influence. The guy’s voice in a little too plain, I’m used to my rappers being very expressive, in the mould of Eminem or Chuck D, or even Snoop. This is all too one level for my liking – hearing the songs as a one off would be fine, but for an album, it becomes not repetitive, but a little… boring?

Take It Off: Another comedy one, poking fun at blokes…. misogyny? Something. Fine yes, but it’s not one I would listen to more than a couple of times and smells an awful lot like filler.

A Little Bit Of Soap: More recognisable notes. More funny lyrics. Probably the last two tracks could have been merged into a more coherent whole.

Tread Water: Interesting lyrics. I must say that it’s all more light-hearted than the handful of rap artists I listen to, and so far not a hint of violence or bling bullshit. Of course I can’t say for sure what any of the songs so far have been about without going back to check out the lyrics, but I think it’s obvious that this is a counterpoint to what was popular in rap both when it was released, and now. That should be a good thing of course, but as a whole it’s not something I think I’ll return to often.

Potholes In My Lawn: It gets more manic as it goes along. There’s a charm to it, and you can’t help but smile. It’s another fine track, nothing too memorable for me though – I have nothing against it, I don’t hate it, I wouldn’t moan if it was played to me all day, but it’s not something I’d choose to put on.

Say No Go: I don’t know this one, but it seems to be packed with samples and sounds, and I think I’ve heard pieces of this on Fresh Prince. It appears to be about drugs as ‘Crack’ is mentioned a few times.

Do As De La Does: An odd one. with a lot of shouting, swearing, strange timings and beats, interesting and curious, and a little bit of gameshow.

Plug Tunin: A slower track, though the lyrics still come quickly. I’ll to follow them this time. Chuck D? No, I’m not following the lyrics at all, partly because I can’t make them out, and partly because what I can make out spins all over the place, which is fine.

De La Orgee: Ok, a bunch of sex noises. I would happily blast this one from the people carrier on the school run.

Buddy: Say what? More banter. More sex words it seems. More chilled from a musical standpoint, and there seems to be a few different voices coming in here at different points. It’s ok, nothing great, nothing bad, plenty of funny lyrics from what I can make out. Jennifa makes another appearance, and a disturbing outro.

Description: 80s videogame noises. Much slower. The lyrics are deliberately slow as the group are clearly making fun of me at this point for being to white to know what the hell is going on. Have they seen the crap I upload to youtube? It seems I am more De La Soul than De La Soul are.

Me, Myself, And I: Righto, I know this one, or at least I recognise the samples, the obvious Funkadelic one standing out. Indeed, this one seems much more sample heavy than the other tracks on the album so far. That means that it isn’t as empty as others, but loses a bit of originality. The lyrics are stuttered slowly again, and the main guy’s voice really comes across as plain on this one.

This Is A Recording For Living In A Fulltime Era: At this point, yes, the same climb and fall of the vocalist is getting a little annoying – very everyline starts up here, and ends up down there. It’s almost like a white man’s bad mockery of rap, which is probably the biggest insult anyone can give. No doubt it’s still funky, but like Ive said, I prefer my vocalists to have a bit of emotion, or at least not sound identical on every track. No idea what they’re going on about here again, of course. Must be near my bed time.

I Can Do Anything: Do do. More madness.

Daisy Age: Very clicky. Lots of bin lids being jammed together. Nice lyrics. Packed with sounds and scratching, but ending a little too bland and bare for my liking. It gets more dense as it goes along, with backing singers, and ends with more gameshow banter. It’s quirky, but quirky in the way people who think they are quirky, are quirky. Is that it? Are we done?

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 138/1000

What I Learned: That rap isn’t all about rape, murder, money, and bitches! It’s also about Mars, numbers, potholes, and monkeys.

Deserving Of A Place In Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: It’s a decent album, with many strong tracks, plenty of songs I recognise, and a lot of great ideas, funky beats, funny parts, good lyrics etc etc. I can only imagine that this was groundbreaking for the time – I don’t know enough about the genre to say otherwise, but it’s certainly among the best albums of its type that I’ve heard. I can see why critics fawn all over it, and if it was indeed influential, then it likely deserves its place. But I don’t see its influence anywhere today. I can’t say that it would make my list, but I understand why it seems to make many others. Give me your thoughts in the comments section below – is it one of your favourites? What were you doing when it was first released?

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