More than 30 years ago, De La Soul released its debut album, 3 Feet High And Rising. Produced by then-Stetsasonic member Prince Paul, the Tommy Boy Records LP became a benchmark of Hip-Hop music. While Posdnuos (aka Plug 1) and Trugoy (aka Plug 2) waxed poetic about life in Long Island, New York, Paul arranged the album with a tapestry of sound sources that honored Hip-Hop’s tradition, and forecast some of its future.
According to a 30th-anniversary Discogs album profile by Sean Cannon, 3 Feet… contains over 60 samples. Paul programmed references, along with using scratches on Maseo’s turntables to make the LP an adventure ride through the familiar, the obscure, and universes in between.
YouTube user “Nama Hecc” uploaded a nearly 11-minute video that takes fans through the sampling and its placement, piece-by-piece. It shows just how intricate the vision for this acclaimed album was—and how deep Prince Paul’s crates went. The video itself is a work of art, showing the viewer what went where, and sometimes even how. It also pays equal respect to the ’89 album, and the parts of its sum. While there are regularly sample-driven tribute mixes, this particular LP warrants deeper appreciation. From Cymande to Gregory Abbott, Liberace to Sly & The Family Stone, Steinski & Double Dee to James Brown, this is the bibliography to a masterpiece.
3 Feet… was released the same year that the Beastie Boys and the Dust Brothers concocted another menagerie with Paul’s Boutique. Between the two LPs, the styles were different. Paul remained at the helm for 1991’s De La Soul Is Dead as well as 1993’s jazzier Buhloone Mindstate.
In 2019, De La Soul battled with Tommy Boy over this album’s ownership and its revenue. The trio (who is now working on an LP produced by DJ Premier and Pete Rock) expressed dissatisfaction with terms offered by their former independent label (who re-acquired the catalog after a Warner Music Group sale). With no agreement reached, De La has asked fans to support its post-Tommy Boy catalog (beginning the mid-2000s). On social media, they have also called for a boycott of the label responsible for multiple classic Rap albums. Meanwhile, De La’s first six albums remain off of streaming platforms. Previously, in 2014, the group offered its discography for free download.
Last year, De La Soul worked with their Mass Appeal Records label-mate DJ Shadow. The artists collaborated on “Rocket Fuel.” Prince Paul, Ladybug Mecca, Don Newkirk and Rodrigo collaborated as BROOKZILL! for a 2016 eponymous LP.
Tommy Boy’s founder, Tom Silverman, has invested in Tracklib. That service provides an online database and prices for samples. Prince Paul, as well as Erick Sermon and Statik Selektah, have been endorsers of the product. The T-Minus-produced beat to 2018 J. Cole song “Middle Child” featured a sample through Tracklib.