3 Feet High and Rising is a good album. Right.
I’ve given it 4 out of 5, haven’t I? I know this is blasphemy but I just don’t think it’s perfect. Whatever you’re into we like it when music starts something. The Velvet Underground did punk, ‘Love to Love You Baby’ is the *** now that – joy! - Disco’s back, and I’m forever hearing about that other golden-age hip hop record, Eric B and Rakim’s ‘Paid in Full’. But there is an idea infecting everyone that albums are nothing more than symbols, that a great album is one you can associate with a great moment or attitude. What a boring way to think about it. ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ can embody whatever you want, but whether it is rockin’ or delicate, violent or flowery, a great record should give you a punch to the chest. I want something brawnier.
Everyone that says this record is wonderfully weird and light-hearted, it is. You’re right. It is a fluorescent beacon amidst angry 80s rap, and though there’s a ***ing horrible bit that goes “I saw a crocodile, he had daisies in his hat!” naff distractions are rare. It does well to avoid slushy mummy’s boy rap – Will Smith’s ‘Inhale… the country air, it’s great to be outdoors!’ thing. For the most part ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ hits the g-spot. It transmits a great sort of instinctive, punkish, teenage cool. The skits are fantastic - here’s a bit from ‘Take It Off’ – “Take those acid-washed jeans, Bell-bottomed, designed by your mama, off. Please?” And there’s more. And I’m happy. It’s uplifting and eternally bright, and more interesting than anything by A Tribe Called Quest. More Interesting, not better, though with golden-age rap that is still mission-accomplished.
This album is good, almost great, for a tonne of other reasons. I’m a cynic, I can’t help it, and I’m becoming ever more infected by Rockism. That usually involves people laughing off hip hop music as being synthetic, stroppy and tiring. Thank God this can put a stop to that. As De La Soul put it, “Criticising rap shows you’re out of order”. My cynicism can’t grab a foothold here because for every daisy-donning crocodile there’s a counter-weight, a track that masterfully dodges the sickly-sweet muck that makes me want to throw up. Try ‘A Little Bit of Soap, it’s a rascally ‘You Smell’ taunt that’s only a 0:50er. As always the sampling is ***ing great. Something else. Across the album it will sandpaper a hole into your soul and plant sunflowers. Here it is as lovingly collaged as sampling has got to be. ‘Say No Go’ is a rollercoaster, a great bit of skiffle. ‘The Magic Number’ is better. Take me Prince Paul, I’m yours.
But where is the meat? Whatever you think about it being ground-breaking, the Sgt. Pepper’s of hip hop, the answer to that eternal question ‘Why?’ it’s missing oomph. Lyrically, the trio float into the stratosphere - on ‘The Magic Number’ they actually say “The effect is ‘mmm’ when a daisy grows in your mind” – ha! But they always succeed in dragging it back down to earth with a jab at someone somewhere whose shoe laces aren’t done up round the back of the ankles. Everyone knows that’s how cool people wear them. The production should have done the same. The sampling is wacky, I’m sure I heard some Hall and Oates thrown in there, and that’s great, but I don’t want 65 minutes of low-fi ruffle and tousle. Whatever ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ has come to mean doesn’t matter. As a listen it doesn’t hit hard enough.