28 Songs that Changed My Life: De La Soul, “The Magic Number” (6 of 28)

Hip hop entered my life at a fairly early age, making its way to the New Jersey sticks by way of transplants from New York City. Early cuts like “Roxanne Roxanne,” “Rock Box” and others were elementary school playground jams that stick with me to this day.

But let’s be honest: The early years of rap were pretty samey. Awesome, yes, but not particularly varied in sound, approach, or lyrics. There was a formula and most acts stuck with it.

Then in 1989, De La Soul dropped Three Feet High and Rising, and everything changed for me. Hip Hop could be light-hearted, joyful, romantic and fun? Who knew!? They sampled ’60s hippy jams and music for the Woodstock generation. They rapped about awkwardly talking up girls and weird characters in school. They had an aloof pseudo-intellectual goofiness about them. All of it was wonderful.

Plus, the music was terrific, as exemplified by the opening track on that record, “The Magic Number.”

This record taught me something important: That hip hop didn’t have to confine itself to 808 beats and rapping about how you were the best MC on the block. It could do anything and be anything, and that the future of more adventurous rap was going to be very bright. (And it was.)