De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising vs. Madvillain’s Madvillainy. Which Is Better?

One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?

“Finding The GOAT Album” has considered more than 120 albums from the 80s, 90s and 2000s (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. Now that you and your vote have decided the final 32 albums (including Wild Cards), the final rounds begin.

Although released 15 years apart, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising and Madvillain’s Madvillainy have much in common. These are two of the Rap genre’s most inventive, clever, and metaphor-driven works. Thoughtful lyrics of self-expression beautifully intersect with innovative sampling for each album’s era. For De La, it was a Da.I.S.Y. Age (Da Inner Soul Y’all) of pop culture, vibrant imagery, and nostalgic consciousness. DOOM and Madlib’s incarnate portrayed an introverted, soulful character that basked in escapism and pained reflection. Contrasting themes, both works demonstrate neatly-defined worlds of personality and carefully-crafted sound. In the first match-up of 1980s vs. 2000s-era Hip-Hop albums, these works bring cult followings to a royal Rap rumble. As a reminder, only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).


3 Feet High And Rising by De La Soul

Through their 1989 debut album, De La Soul expanded the creative walls of Hip-Hop. Posdnuos (a/k/a Posdnous), Trugoy The Dove (l/k/a Dave), and DJ Maseo spoke in an abstract language. They made songs that were much more Dr. Seuss than Donald Goines. Yet, 3 Feet High And Rising was unafraid to tackle sex, poverty, drug addiction, and angst—even if the laymen missed it. The De La trio operated a way that existed on several frequencies. For those simply looking for musical escape, Prince Paul’s mosaic samples, veering from Parliament to Hall & Oates, Steely Dan to Schoolhouse Rock was a spaceship. For Heads looking for social commentary presented through inventive songwriting and skillful verse, DA Inner Soul Y’all had it locked. In many cases, the heaviest subject matter was met with the most alluring music. As new artists, De La Soul did not to take themselves too seriously, rather joining their producer in meticulous detail for their art.

Few 1980s LPs are as emphatically album-like as 3 Feet… With the skits and sequencing, the Long Island, New Yorkers made a work that challenged hit-seekers and distracted listeners alike. Although the masterfully cohesive LP is a sum of many parts, its singles still succeeded. “Buddy” was the perfect companion/sequel to Jungle Brothers’ “Jimbrowski,” as “Eye Know” was one of the more complex, and realistic accounts of pining courtship. Few outfits in the group-driven ’80s had two MCs cooperating as well as Plug 1 and Plug 2. This pair never upstaged one another—a truism of the next 25 years. Instead, they enhanced each other’s verses. At a time when Hip-Hop was in puberty, De La Soul’s debut album drew from life’s wonder years, honing in on the imagery, the innocence (and loss of), and the many joys of growing up.

Album Number: 1
Released: March 3, 1989
Label: Tommy Boy/Warner Bros. Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #24 (certified gold, June 1989; certified platinum April, 2000)
Song Guests: Q-Tip, Jungle Brothers (Mike Gee, Afrika Baby Bam), Al Watts, Don Newkirk
Song Producers: (self), Prince Paul, Qualiall


Madvillainy by Madvillain

In the early 2000s, MF DOOM was very much a dope-MC-for-hire. Following his late 1990s career renaissance thanks to Operation Doomsday, the super-villain adopted a Tupac Shakur-like work ethic of recording, producing, and releasing albums under a plethora of aliases and guises. As many suitors came to the table to break bread, Madlib and Stones Throw Records were great fans of the former KMD front man. After coming to an agreement, the emerging MC/producer of Lootpack fame got “blunted in the bomb shelter” (Stones Throw’s studio) with DOOM. Although the album may have had modest beginnings, the synergy between the two reclusive artists cultivated new career pathways for each. Madvillainy was a tremendous merging of two esteemed talents, who celebrated ignoring convention. Despite the whimsicality, they made a remarkably soulful LP. Behind the dusty loops and drenched lyrics is an album that’s become a hallmark to each artist, a label, and a redefined Underground Hip-Hop movement in the mid-2000s. Twenty-two tracks deep, Madvillain’s lone studio album is a sum of small movements. With most songs two minutes long, this album combated the trends of the mainstream in all ways, despite its surprisingly large (eventual) profile. Songs like “Accordion” played like a profound interlude. MF DOOM, hitting the pocket of Madlib’s quirky beat, blended cartoon references with brief allusions to his own mortality. Madlib did not just play a background role in the album. Like Metal Face DOOM or Quasimoto, Madvillain stood as a character of the pair’s concoction. Instrumentals, and subdued lyrical moments showed Otis Jackson, Jr.’s sound apart from his Yesterday’s New Quintet, Quas’, or solo work. “Rainbows” were anything but straightforward, and moments that enhanced the cohesion of the stylized album without being overt. “Figaro” put DOOM in a sound that was wildly different than his own productions. As a 15-year vet was rising the ranks of MC lists, the complex rhythms of Madlib proved to be a combine drill of skill. “Fancy Clown” was a no-laughing-matter break-up track. DOOM spoke from within emotionally, as the producer made the song cry—literally. Crossover single “All Caps” transported the group back to the 1970s, rewarding fans with a song that felt like a refined Operation Doomsday holdover. In the song (and much of the album), DOOM embraced his own legend. Madlib was able to take elements of what he heard in the Fondle ‘Em Records days, and build out his motifs. While the Oxnard, California native would make albums with another NYC underground vet in Percee P, as well as Talib Kweli, Strong Arm Steady, and Guilty Simpson, Madvillainy may be his most intensive workshop. Even if its mosaic approach, short songs featured detailed sequencing, beat-flips, and nuanced accents. This unlikely pair, acting upon Madvillainy as an experimental one-off, would make career-defining chemistry together—a bomb in the shelter.

Album Number: 1 (as group)
March 24, 2004
Stones Throw Records Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #179
Song Guests:
MED, Wildchild
Song Producers:

So which album is better? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Jay Z’s The Black Album vs. Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP. Which Is Better?