Before Ellison even arrives, I’ve found there’s a lot to be desired when it comes to being a real head and a dad looking for music for his kiddo. But tolerating substandard music for your child is like feeding them fuzzy mac and cheese. If your mac and cheese has fuzz, you wouldn’t put it on a plate in front of your littlest. Same way I find it hawd to let Ellison listen to crappy music. Now, understanding there are educational elements to many of these programs targeted at the parents of infants and knee-highs, I would say that simply reading what the labels say or, better yet, what they don’t doesn’t tell the whole story. Is it bad for kids to sit around listening to Simon and Garfunkel? Nah. Probably not. Or, say, Bob Dylan? I’d say not. There’s no label on it saying that it’s approved for kids, but then again, there’s not a label on a lot of things. For that very reason, I reached for De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising off the shelf this morning.
To properly put the context on this record, back in 1989 when this came out, it was drastically different than anything out. It’s kaleidoscopic soundscape and often cryptic lyrical content was a new sound. Unapologetically positive, it immediately hooked an audience as an alternative to the violent imagery and misogynistic messages that dominated the rap game. That doesn’t make it a clean record by any mark, but it’s definitely cleaner for young ears. Compared to what kids are taking in off of urban radio these days, this is like a freaking Christopher Cross record.
In fact, I would contend that, with few exceptions, this thing is practically kid-ready. It’s a fine line, I realize. Knowing how impressionable kids are and you don’t know exactly how they’re going to take certain messages. Knowing this, there are songs that I would altogether skip or edit out through the marvels of modern technology.
Side one starts with “The Magic Number” which interpolates Bob Dorough’s classic kid’s record “Three is the Magic Number” and, is at it’s very core, a playful, high-energy and harmless composition. You’ll sit nervously as it plays waiting for that one “buck,” “chit” or “glitch,” but there is none. It’s not until we get to “Jenifa Taught Me” which describes the fleeting (albeit respectful) sexual advances of the narrator. All is described in deliberately inexplicit prose, but they talk about people losing their garments. Be careful here. Probably worth editing out. In fact, if you think the poverty and oppression of the ghetto is a little too heavy, go ahead and skip “Ghetto Thang” which is an introspective tour through the ghetto, but might be a little too heady for the youngsters. Also features the albums first PG-word: “bitch” but not to describe a female, but to describe a difficult situation. You make the call. Before it’s here, it’s gone.
Go ahead and skip through “Take It Off” and the brief but graphic “De La Orgee” which is intended for humorous purposes, but boasts more groans and moans than one can stand with Barry White as the musical bed. It’s laughable, but unless you want to give your kid a sex ed prelim, go ahead and edit it out. And lastly edit out “Buddy” which, even though bonafide classic, is probably, for the same reason as “Jenifa” and “Orgee” worth skipping. Let’s not overlook, though, incredible and harmless compositions like “Potholes in My Lawn,” “Me Myself and I,” “Plug Tunin’,” “Description” and “D.A.I.S.Y. Age” which are all Tipper Gore-approved and are an easy exposure for a youngster into some real music for real heads.
So, to recap, unless you wanna have the “talk” earlier than expected and have to explain the meaning of the word “jimbrowski,” then go ahead and skip: “Jenifa Taught Me,” “Buddy,” “Take It Off,” “De La Orgee” and if you object to the albums really only objectionable word–“bitch”–which is featured in Goonies five times along with the entire list the classic PG arsenal, the go ahead and skip “Ghetto Thang.” For a rap record in 1989, only having to skip five out of the 24 songs around your kiddos is pretty remarkable.
Not only that, this album is straight up CLASSIC status. And, if there was ever a hip hop record that, at its heart is actually a kids record, this is it. It’s one part “Schoolhouse Rock,” one part Parliament-Funkadelic, one part some goofy Learn to Speak French, one part Dr. Seuss, one part Steely Dan, one part Sesame Street. All parts dope. Your kid’ll be the coolest kid in kindergarten after a summer with 3 Feet High and Rising. Only because you can’t comfortably play from front to back, beginning to end around the kiddies, I’m docking one Dirty, but this beauty otherwise gets a mighty healthy four Dirties.