One of the greatest hip hop groups of all time, De La Soul established themselves as a cultural force when they dropped their debut 3 Feet High and Rising in 1989.

The most amazing thing about it? The album only cost them $13,000, a paltry fee relative to most rap albums, to write and record.

“We made the whole of 3 Feet High and Rising for $13,000,” they recalled in an interview with The Guardian. “Using just a Casio RZ-1 drum machine/sampler and another gadget called an Eventide harmonizer, which allowed us to match songs that had totally different pitches – we could put Daryl Hall’s voice over a Sly and the Family Stone record. It was amazing.”

Hailing from Long Island New York, members Posdnuos, Trugoy, and Maseo connected with each other when they were still in high school. Together they recorded a demo tape of the song “Plug Tunin'” and presented it to fellow-Long Islander Prince Paul who had gained recognition as a local DJ and one of the original members of Stetsasonic.

The trio were subsequently signed to Tommy Boy Records and got to recording their debut album, with Prince Paul providing the production. De La Soul also became members of the Native Tongues collective, along with A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, Queen Latifah, and others. Q-Tip and Jungle Brothers would later appear on 3 Feet High and Rising.

“It was playful, childlike and fun,” Posdnuos recalled. “We’d rap about “Mr Fish swimming in a bathroom sink”. We’d dip into psychedelia or jazz. We’d slow down Eddie Murphy’s voice and add a car screeching or us yodelling. At no point did we think what we were doing would end up being so revolutionary.”

Despite the limited budget, De La Soul’s debut album received widespread critical acclaim, as well as some moderate commercial success – the project topped Billboard’s US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and “Me Myself and I” became a worldwide hit single. 3 Feet High and Rising quickly established the Long Island trio as one of the most forward-thinking and progressive rap acts in the game and they quickly attained a loyal fanbase.

Posdnuos: We knew the album didn’t sound like anything else, but we had no idea if people would like it. Everything happened very quickly after its release. Our manager asked: “So, do you want to stay in college – or do you want to be rap stars?” I was like: “Uh, I’ll take rap star.” We were all over the radio, and they put us on the road with Public Enemy. We went from being an unknown rap act to a gigantic pop group.

How we made 3 Feet High and Rising | The Guardian
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