photo & text by nacrowe
from my perspective, when considering the transformative HIP HOP albums from a lyrical and production standpoint, the ones that tend to immediately come to mind include:
1) PUBLIC ENEMY's FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET (DEF JAM, 1990) with its strident political firepower matched by THE BOMB SQUAD's unapologetic bombastic production.
2) BEASTIE BOYS' PAUL's BOUTIQUE (CAPITOL, 1989) and it's postmodern pastiche of film soundtracks, found sound and esoteric 70s vinyl courtesy of the DUST BROTHERS that matched the carefree, idiosyncratic, stream-of-consciousness lyrical content of the group.
3) DE LA SOUL's 3 FEET HIGH AND RISING (TOMMY BOY, 1989) and PRINCE PAUL's kinetic, playful bouncy production likewise constructed utilizing countless samples that synchronized perfectly with the group's intellectually curious, almost SURREALIST mindset.
in my opinion 3 FEET HIGH AND RISING is the last of a breed records that came out around that time, not only from PUBLIC ENEMY and the BEASTIE BOYS, but like-minded groups like A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, WU-TANG CLAN and MOBB DEEP. there is a sense with these artists that samples utilized are an extension of a perspective shared by the group itself. it is like an extension almost of their collective ego. these artists also had identifiable producers/production teams that tailored their sonic identity, whether such be J DILLA, THE BOMB SQUAD, THE DUST BROTHERS, RICK RUBIN, MARIO CALDATO JR, Q-TIP, THE RZA or HAVOC. i dont believe that is the case anymore with modern producers instead marketing their signatures sonic compositions for in-house stables of artists or at a premium for outside artists, think TIMBALAND or PHARRELL WILLIAMS. shit evolves. that is now the model more or less.
in PRINCE PAUL compositions off 3 FEET HIGH AND RISING like the iconic "ME MYSELF AND I," "POTHOLES IN MY LAWN," "EYE KNOW," "BUDDY" and "SAY NO GO" there is a kaleidoscopic, playful blending of JAZZ with 1970s R&B/FUNK/CLASSIC ROCK samples that serves as a perfect sound-bed for a group equally concerned with SOCIAL JUSTICE, POST-COLONIAL BLACK IDENTITY and SATURDAY MORNING CARTOONS. what i love about this era in HIP HOP and this specific record in particular is how the interplay between the sample and the MC and how they transform and contextualize one another. it is an absolute palimpsest of complex meaning that is only deepened over time. it is a special alchemy that i go back and enjoy all the time.
but it probably wont happen again. due to copyright laws and usage rights, a record like 3 FEET HIGH AND RISING is not evil possible without a mammoth budget due to permissions needed and copyright holders paid. the nearest thing to this record to come out in recent memory was DANGER MOUSE's notorious yet savant level JAY-Z/BEATLES mashup THE GREY ALBUM (SELF-RELEASED, 2004) which likewise entirely skirted copyright regulations. its unfortunate because these artists and producers transformed said content. and it is that contextualization, that transformation, that ALCHEMY which is the basic active ingredient in the magic of HIP HOP.
thats my opinion at least.