by Walter Price
1989 was a stellar year. Personally I was rocking it. Or so I thought. This was the year James Brown went to prison, David Coverdale marries that nut (allegedly), Ice Cube left N.W.A. which oddly leads to De La Soul. Not directly but just the same seemingly polar opposites in hip-hop. Where N.W.A. were hardcore story tellers De La were laid back jazzy tricksters, master wordsmiths and almost immediate trend setters.
Their debut 3 Feet High and Rising introduced a brand of rap that whites could play loud and proud and not offend their goofy parents. Exclaiming, “These guys have a sense of humor! Like a softer funkier Beastie Boys, even!!!” Which is accurate for sure but their easily digested verses resting on brilliantly lackadaisical beats and playful arrangements taught or simply introduced a whole new audience to this ever emerging thing called hip hop.And so radio friendly, win win.
I spent a portion of 1989 and subsequent years on my motorcycle cruising Austin completely enthralled as De La Soul pumped their rhymes into my life via the now ancient Walkman. It held and still does a special place in my life as when I pop it on I feel, smell and dream of the time. Now my young kids request it and we dig checking out all the virtues within. New things even I discover after all these years. Brilliant…
In that great year of ’89 Robert Christgau reviewed, “An inevitable development in the class history of rap, they’re new wave to Public Enemy’s punk, and also “pop” rather than pop, as self-consciously cute and intricate as Shoes or Let’s Active. Their music is maddeningly disjunct, and a few of the 24-cuts-in-67-minutes (too long for vinyl) are self-indulgent, arch. But their music is also radically unlike any rap you or anybody else has ever heard–inspirations include the Jarmels and a learn-it-yourself French record. And for all their kiddie consciousness, junk-culture arcana, and suburban in-jokes, they’re in the new tradition–you can dance to them, which counts for plenty when disjunction is your problem.”
Masterfully said. De La Soul’s debut spawned imitators and trends but nothing is better than the original. Word.
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