Guardian and Observer writers are picking their favourite albums ? with a view that you might do the same. Here, Saptarshi Ray gets high on De La Soul's debut
My teenage years were a nightmare: cursed with a sunny disposition, easygoing nature and ability to make friends easily, it seemed as if everyone understood me ? yet whenever I looked around all the cool kids were channelling misery and angst through Morrissey and Cure albums. Where were the poets for our generation who found each day not all that bad? Well, that's where De La Soul came in.
Three Feet High and Rising, released in 1989, was hip-hop, but not as we knew it. Three black kids from Long Island, New York rapping about losing their virginity, dandruff and, um, optimistic animals. With the conjuring tricks of Prince Paul on production, Posdunous, Trugoy and Mase crafted an album that was essentially about doing not much in particular. It was like they were watching my life. And what a sound they had.
Hip-hop was full of rage in the 80s ? from Chuck D's social polemics to Ice-T's forays into gangsta rap ? but songs such as Eye Know and The Magic Number purveyed a philosophy of peace and amiability. The bright colours, crazy hairstyles and sweet melodies that underscored their rhymes offered a riposte to the macho posturing of much rap. And most of all, they were trying to have fun. Weren't we all?
"Concept album" sounds way too stuffy a label for Three Feet High?, but the songs were linked by a mock gameshow, with band members answering surreal questions and at one point making a passable attempt at a Scottish accent. There were funny skits, and tracks such as Take It Off seemed little more than friends riffing on each other. Their songs were a call to lighten up, and it's an icy soul that can't smile at them. And Eye Know remains one of the most unashamedly romantic tracks around, so much so that, when asked to read at a wedding years later, I suggested using the lyrics.
There were songs to dance to such as Me, Myself and I or Tread Water. Songs to zone out to such as Buddy, Potholes in My Lawn or Transmitting Live from Mars, where rap and Tricolore textbooks joined in metaphysical union. And there were songs that sounded so fresh and different they were hard to categorise at all ? for instance Say No Go, which famously sampled Hall and Oates.
As well as the James Brown samples that had become hip-hop staples, there were a whole host of artists lurking in the background: Johnny Cash (his song Five Feet High and Rising influenced the title), the Steve Miller Band, and the Monkees to name three.
This album heralded the Daisy age (DA Inner Sound Y'all) of hip-hop and, despite their more experimental forays that still continue 22 years later, De La Soul sounded at their best when they were young, fearless and just a little clueless. It's perhaps as much a nostalgia for their youth as mine that makes it my favourite album.
Or you could simply star rate it, or add it to one of your album lists. There are more than 3m new pages for you to explore as well as 600,000-plus artists' pages ? so simply find their albums and get to work ?