Producer: Prince Paul, De La Soul
Album: 3 Feet High and Rising
Label: Tommy Boy/Warner Bros. Records

Actually, they were wrong: Four was the magic number for De La Soul, as it was producer "Prince Paul" Huston that telegraphed this Long Island trio's dreams and turned them into the musical cinematography of 3 Feet High and Rising. Hip-hop's 20-year obsession with macho posturing was refuted in the three amiable minutes of "The Magic Number." As it turned out, you didn't need to be hard to be hip-hop. Of course, "The Magic Number" has all the fundamental ingredients: advanced rap skills, check; Prince Paul's old world scratching ("No more, no less" steals the song in the last minute); an ill break borrowed from the least likely source—in this case, a 1970s children's song written and sung by a gentle jazzbo named Bob Dorough. The song has enough mechanics to win the purists approval but its greatness comes from the fact that it simply didn't care about approval. Why else would they embrace those colors at a time when everyone was in uniform boots and hoodies? Like the album it introduces, "The Magic Number" heralded a new system of hip-hop artistry: the exchange that occurs when a group of close friends make music in a suburban basement with the sole purpose of self-entertainment. —Sam Sweet