Anna Minard, our city hall reporter, claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we're forcing her to listen to all the records that music nerds consider important.


3 Feet High and Rising

(Tommy Boy)

We start on an old-timey game show. Are you ready? "How many fibers are intertwined in a Shredded Wheat biscuit?" The purpose of the game, other than answering questions, winning, and getting money, are left unclear. We enter the world of this album through a skit, and leave it through a skit, but the theme doesn't swim throughout every song, it doesn't feel like a concept album. We've just turned on some old TV in a room somewhere, and the channel changes itself.

De La Soul play a game very well: The rhymes and beats sound smooth and rich yet easy and casual, like everything's rolling off the tongue. Like this is how they spit grocery lists, what their voice-mail message sounds like, what happens when you get a fake hairbrush microphone near their faces at a party. But the words roll so fast! Faster than they seem—if you are a rap-along-in-your-car kind of person, you are totally screwed a lot of the time, though you may not realize it at first. Save it for the professionals here and just enjoy.

The speedy rhymes are laid onto a series of beats that are often based on recognizable soul and R&B fragments, so your brain goes into this nostalgic old-school groove mode, and then the quicksilver flow acts up, then those old horns or voices or bass come back in, then the verses blow up again, etc. Your brain is in a warm loop.

That kind of performance, the kind that appears to be easy, that inspires you to try it for yourself only to realize it was expert-level all along, is a feat in any medium. These verses can be so on-beat that they're almost on a grid, delivered with expert, surgical precision, and then syncopate when you least expect. It's peak poetry.

This album is also 24 songs long. (I didn't know that was allowed, but it is.) And it's not all one-minute songs, either—sure, there are little snippets of sound, but there are also quite a few four- and five-minute songs, lengthy and multifaceted explorations.

My favorites, both short and long: "Take It Off," a list of fashionable items you should immediately remove from your body: "Take those contacts off... Take those shell-toes off... Take that Kangol off... Take that Jordache off..." I appreciate the regimented syllables of "A Little Bit of Soap" almost as much as the theme of a song about how someone stinks. Both songs called "Plug Tunin'," especially because I love the samples. (Internet research says "Plug Tunin'" was their first single, which I get. Brains looooove thissss shittttt.) "Me Myself and I" continues the killer samples and neat-gridded raps.

I gotta say: I think I'm especially unqualified to judge this. But fuck it, that's my job: This album is amazing. You should use this moment as an excuse to turn it on.

I give this a "marker scribbles and fashion tips" out of 10. recommended