Eye Know! A 35th anniversary tribute to De La Soul’s landmark debut album, ‘3 Feet High and Rising’

OPINION: The debut album from the Amityville, N.Y., trio (plus Prince Paul) was a game-changer in 1989 that still feels unique in 2024. 

De La Soul performs onstage at the Endometriosis Foundation of America's Celebration of The 5th Annual Blossom Ball at Capitale on March 11, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Blossom Ball)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

When De La Soul’s debut album, “3 Feet High and Rising” came out in March 1989, I was 9 years old (but going on 10!). But because I have an older sister five years my senior who was also a hip-hop head of sorts (and also my North Star on all things music), I would listen to anything and everything she did, no matter what. It was that dedication to my sister’s choices that brought me to De La Soul and “3 Feet High and Rising.” So here’s the funny thing, I don’t know if she actually had the album. She can’t remember definitively, either. What I do know is that I remember the album cover because it’s the kind of album cover that is magical and unforgettable. 

The bright colors and the flowers and the lettering looked, to me, like something that I might have made in my fourth-grade art class and screamed, “SEE ME!” I remember “Me Myself and I” and the video for “Buddy (Native Tongues Decision),” which is different from the album version of the song. 

Listen, that video for “Buddy” is a core memory for me. When this song and album came out, I was living in Frankfurt, Germany, and honestly was too young to really understand what was going on back in the States in terms of style and fashion. It was entirely possible that I didn’t even realize who was who on the song. I just knew that I was looking at a group of people who looked both fascinating and oddly … colorful. I didn’t even know what “buddy” meant. What I did know was that I wanted into whatever it was they were doing. It was around this time that my “borrowing” of my sister’s tapes became rampant, downright larceny. I wanted everything and anything that had to do with hip-hop. It would be another two years before I discovered De La Soul’s second album, “De La Soul is Dead,” the album that would become my favorite album, regardless of genre, for decades — it still maintains a 1a designation behind only A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders.” 

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While “3 Feet High and Rising” isn’t as high on my favorite list album as its followup, what song is essential to my entire hip-hop life is “Eye Know,” the song built off of samples from The Mad Ladds, Steely Dan and Otis Redding, and stacked so well that I’d argue that the song is perfect. Prince Paul’s production with the lyricism of Posdnous and Trugoy seemed like a match made in heaven on an album full of records that were already uniquely beautiful, each in their own right. 

It’s quite amazing that hip-hop is at the point where landmark albums in the genre’s history are 35-plus years old. Especially since I can vividly remember some of these albums as part of my own life now. Sure, I know I’m getting older but it’s wild to realize that the works of art that defined my youth are old enough to be full-fledged adults themselves. “3 Feet High and Rising” is an album that represents so much of what hip-hop both was and could be. Every hip-hop artist who wasn’t hardcore can trace their lineage back to De La Soul and “3 Feet High and Rising.” Sure, every rapper wasn’t bumping “Potholes In My Lawn,” but songs and skits like those on this album created a space for songs like Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick Push” to exist. Or artists like Pharrell who are devout fans of the entire Native Tongues collective. 

“3 Feet High and Rising” is an album that showed even a 9-year-old kid living in Frankfurt, Germany, that you could be a little bit weird but true to yourself and maybe even you could make jams that were infectious one day. I might not be a rapper, but De La Soul influenced the way I listened to hip-hop, and I’m still listening to much of it the same way I did in the early ’90s. Thankfully, I’m one of what feels like thousands of hip-hop artists with platforms that realize the debt of gratitude owed to De La Soul who dared to be weird and fun in 1989. And thank goodness we can listen to all of their music on streaming platforms to fully appreciate these albums that changed so many lives. 

Rest in peace to Dave, aka Trugoy the Dove, aka Plug Two. 

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.

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