A couple weeks ago—a million years ago, before some sad soul committed the most horrific hate crime against LGBTQ people in the country, ever—a music critic named David Turner, a person who writes for MTV.com, who was born in 1992, was for some reason assigned to review 1989's rightfully revered 3 Feet High and Rising in 2016. As a troll piece, it worked like gangbusters—as someone born before 1965 might say. (I hope it somehow helped iTunes sales/streaming of De La Soul's new Snoop-featuring single "Pain," released a few days before that.)
Even though he wasn't immune to the charms of "Buddy" (a song that marked my rap-fandom puberty, if you will), Turner bitched about the skits (on the album that invented the rap skit) and the samples (maybe he's a fan of the Turtles). All this, he wrote, because the "stuff I like is all about instrumentals and ad libs that come closer to contemporary EDM."
One look at that guy, however—and a look at his byline, which is found mostly atop words about Atlanta trap rappers—leads me to suspect that he's really just running from his high-school past as a yuge MF Doom stan. Now, it's easy to think that "instant dismissal" and "disregard for the past" are concepts that millennials invented, but they're not. It's just that millennials do it online, with the front-facing camera on.
A minor social-media shitstorm ensued, of course—we had the converse of the "Migos Are Better Than the Beatles" meme (3 Feet was famously called "the Sgt. Pepper's of the '80" by the Los Angeles Times at the time) meeting old-head indignation—the likes of which hadn't been seen since Philly's middling trap rapper Lil Uzi Vert refused to freestyle over DJ Premier beats. (Live onstage from the generation gap: Uzi's actual DJ is DJ PForreal, son of the great Prince Paul, the guy who produced the first three De La Soul albums.) Blanket dismissal is blanket dismissal, though, and in tucking your head underneath it, ironically or not, no matter your pull-by date, you end up missing out on whole worlds. Learning is simply not a thing to be against.
The saddest part (besides it being offered as legitimate music criticism) was seeing De La Soul referred to as "real hiphop"—which it absolutely is, but that term is typically meant in the asshole-pejorative sense, and De La Soul (and Prince Paul) were, well, once the very fucking embodiment of fucking-with-the-norm in hiphop. They rapped funny, dressed funny, and had funny haircuts (even by 1989 standards). Their debut 12-inch single, "Plug Tunin," started with Maseo commanding Posdnuos and Dave to "flaunt that new style of speak."
De La Soul represented a break from continuity. The muscles I use to parse new Young Thug songs today are the same ones I used to analyze 3 Feet High and Rising a quarter century ago. This is not a stretch. This is pattern recognition. When rap critic Noz tweeted last year: "It helps if you think of [Young Thug and Birdman's] "Constantly Hating" as a De La Soul song," he packed more knowledge and dead-eye analysis into 14 words than Turner did with more than 1,200, and more than I managed to do in almost half that.
It's the magic number.