A title as inventive as it is transgressive
“A new positive philosophy for Hip Hop”
At the time De La Soul emerged in Hip Hop, there was still a whole world to explore for those wishing to venture into the musical genre. The first part of the Golden Age, which spans roughly from 1987 to 1993, was one of the most prolific periods in terms of innovation. Without anyone noticing, the foundations of modern Hip Hop were being laid, stone by stone, with achievements swarming like bees around a hive, each album was a major innovation for the next generations. De La Soul was at the heart of this founding generation with a style that would bring much to Hip Hop.
With 3 Feet High and Rising released in 1989, De La Soul breathed the Daisy Age, a kind of movement, or rather a philosophy, a new wind, within Hip Hop, that would be taken up by some of the artists and groups of that time. A philosophy full of positivity with a candid and naive look and a social message finally hidden of a false innocence almost Hippie, which at first sight seems rather far from the Hip Hop movement.
Some groups will follow this tendency in a more or less direct way. Without wanting it, A Tribe Called Quest will be partially registered in this movement with philosophical lyrics. More activist, groups like KMD and Brand Nubian will be inspired by it while being much more severe and belligerent in their approach. Da Bush Babees, Black Sheep or more distant geographically The Pharcyde, are other examples. More globally, this philosophy will be mainly carried by the Native Tongues collective.
“An unexplored palette of samples”
3 Feet High and Rising and its daisy will be the emblem of this philosophy. And if this album carried with it a whole ideology in Hip Hop, it is not its only innovation. If this philosophy is also identifiable and recognizable, the music and the sounds are inseparable, beyond the lyrics, the attitude and the message conveyed by De La Soul. This is where Prince Paul comes in.
The sampling techniques will be unprecedented in Hip Hop, first in the selection of samples used, second in the ingenuity to layer them and third in the sounds. Sampling is far from new to rap, EPMD has already revolutionized the techniques but with samples of well-known hits for a danceable groove. But Prince Paul will make childish rhythms, full of joy, positivity, naivety, and especially ingenuity in the realization with a palette of samples still unexplored and a prodigious assembly. This makes Prince Paul the great architect of the Daisy Age musicality. This is the second great innovation of 3 Feet High and Rising.
We could dwell at length on the philosophy of the Daisy Age and on 3 Feet High and Rising in particular, both of which will be the subject of a dedicated article. Here, we will focus on the prodigious construction of one of the singles of the album, Eye Know. While many, if not all, of the tracks on the album could have been the subject of a retrospective, I selected this track out of personal affinity, but also because it represents this philosophy wonderfully in both sound and lyrics, not to mention its exceptional construction.
“A rhythm of utopian childlike positivity”
Listening to Eye Know, one instantly imagines oneself in the shoes of a young child with a big smile, happy and naive, strolling and frolicking lightly in the middle of a flowery field under a bright sun. The cheerfulness provoked seems almost utopian. If this melody is the work of Prince Paul’s genius, it is the combination of carefully selected and beautifully assembled samples. The whistle from Otis Redding’s (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay is the song’s first childlike mark. It leads into an immediate mood swing that takes you straight back to the innocence of childhood. The horns of the song Make This Young Lady Mine by the Mad Lads inundates with its candid air with a sweet lullaby-like melody.
For its part, the guitar chord and keyboard riff of Steely Dan’s Peg offers a rhythm of unparalleled delicacy, smooth as a peach skin and velvety as a cream, yet driving enough to keep the beat. Only a Sly and The Family Stone drum beat could fill this harmony, a few light and distant snare beats taken from Sing A Simple Song, layered with a few toms from Lee Dorsey’s Get Out of My Life, Woman to give the desired slow tempo. It all fits together beautifully for a naive love song. If Prince Paul does a magical job on the sampling, Maseo’s DJing is also incredible.
“Eye know I love you better”
The sung voice of the chorus, also covered by Peg is only irresistible. It perfectly describes the mood of the song with a simple phrase filled with joyfulness, love and vulnerability, a naive sincerity that comes from the credulity attributed to childhood: “Eye Know I love you better”. This rhyme is even more embellished by the wordplay, the eyes and the look being the revealer of love, this simple sentence is heavy with meaning while being finally dichotomous, only an adult has the experience and the discernment to interpret a look of love. This simple sentence, as cute as it is, is not as naive as it pretends to be, and can actually be similar to a gentle manipulation, I see you love me so I can reveal myself without risk. It reveals both a form of malice, which is rather childish, and a form of manipulation, which requires more maturity.
Posdonous and Dove play entirely on this dichotomy, a love song full of naturalness and poetry, but with a specific purpose that is suggested with subtle hints in the later lines of the song. Many of the rhymes are double entendre with a childlike simplicity but a purpose that only an adult can understand:
DoveIt’s I again and the soul that I send,
Is taking steps to reach your heart,
Any moment you feel alone,
I can fill up your empty part,
We can ascend ’til we reach De La Heaven,
And in a spin, we’ll hit the top ten
PosdonousWhen transistors will play
Come into bed is the mood
Dolby sound will be then top crowned
When I put the needle into your groove
I got a good thing
And in full swing
The song is in fact a disguised flirtation, a revelation that aims to seduce with what follows. The two rappers put the forms, the romance and poetry that accompany the usual exercise undertaken by men. The rhymes suggest that it may be a story of the heart or a story of sex. Yet the lyrics get drunk in a playfulness, at once innocuous but full of mischief.
“An attitude and imagery for an immersion in De La Soul’s wonder world”
The duo’s slow, nonchalant flows blend perfectly into the down tempo rhythm, but it’s also perfect for the conquest set in motion. They don’t rush, they enunciate their words calmly and masterfully, aware of their purpose while appearing romantically in love. They reflect both the hippie and relaxed attitude of the group, and the false childish candor of the seduction they are trying to set up, without any fatality and in all futility.
The imagery of the clip fits beautifully into the theme of the song while being very representative of the Daisy Age philosophy embodied by the trio. We find once again the codes of childhood with water bubbles that invade this childish decor from the first seconds. The drawing without nuance, with bright colors and coarse lines, is the ideal background for this naive and positive ideology which is a matter of childish modesty. Balloons follow to complete this playground atmosphere for a perfect immersion in De La Soul’s hippie fantasy world.