“The Magic Number” by De La Soul

It’s clear from listening to this song that at this juncture in De La Soul’s musical trajectory, the trio were more interested in having fun with music than making racks from it. And once you wade through all the colorful metaphors that make up this piece, that is one of the subthemes being put forth, that Mase, Posdnuos and Dove create music because doing so is in their “soul”.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for De La Soul's The Magic Number at Lyrics.org.

That said, it would more or less be an act of futility trying to make too much sense out of this song, whether lyrically or instrumentally (i.e. in terms of correlating the verbal samples).  

De La Soul was amongst the first prominent hippie groups in hip-hop. And whereas they never seemed to espouse drugs or anything like that, it was clear, especially in terms of their early offerings like “The Magic Number”, that this crew was sorta on a different plane, making use of their own unique jargon and style. 

Indeed this song harps back to a day when individuality was arguably more valued than conformity in the rap industry, and Posdnuos actually points to such an idea in the first verse. Here he makes it clear that he and his cohorts are not copying “monkeys” but rather dedicated to making their own mark on the scene.

Another Sub-Theme “

That said, another discernible subtheme of this piece features the vocalists criticizing those who in turn judge rap music. We can say that rap – in some way, shape or form – has always been a controversial genre. But this song came out entering into the 1990s, i.e. around the time that hip-hop really started going mainstream.  

So on one hand, it can be interpreted that Posdnuos is telling critics to take a chill pill in general. But more to the intended point, obviously, would be him advising parents and co. to give De La Soul a solid listen, since they’re coming with a more positive, intellectual vibe than the norm.

Title (“The Magic Number”)

And of course the phrase “three [is] the magic number”, upon which the title is based, is a reference to the three members of De La Soul themselves. And in said regard this is, most simply put, a braggadocious piece, even if these rappers don’t boast like most of the rest. 

Or put differently, what it is they’re actually bragging about is their unconventional and exceptional poetic and music abilities. And that is why many analysts of this song do in fact consider “The Magic Number” as being the perfect introduction to De La Soul, as on top of marking the opening song on their first album it is also a quintessential display of the artistry which defined their heyday.

De La Soul, "The Magic Number" Lyrics

Facts about “The Magic Number”

This piece served as the second track and first actual song on the playlist of De La Soul’s debut album, “3 Feet High and Rising”.  

De La Soul is a trio of hip-hoppers – emcees Posdnuos and Trugoy alongside deejay Maseo. Hailing from Long Island (New York), these emcees are ranked amongst the pioneers of alternative rap music.

“The Magic Number” was officially released, via Tommy Boy Records, on the date of 14 March 1989. And to note, it was also issued as a single from the aforementioned album.

It performed well in Britain. Here, it managed to make it onto the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart.

This song was produced by De La Soul in conjunction with Prince Paul, the industry figure who helped put them on.  

And another practice which this musical act helped to pioneer is the usage of samples in rap music, being amongst the first hip-hop musicians to actually be sued for such.  

Relatedly “The Magic Number” samples a number of tracks. These include:

  • “Five Feet High and Rising” (1959) by Johnny Cash
  • “Different Strokes”(1967) by Syl Johnson
  • “Funky Drummer” (1970) by James Brown
  • “The Crunge” by Led Zeppelin (1973)
  • “Shack Up” (c. 1975) by Banbarra
  • “Hit by a Car” (1982) by Eddie Murphy (yes, the comedian) 

Most notably it also samples “Three Is a Magic Number” (1973) by Schoolhouse Rock, which was actually a children’s educational TV program.  

That said, the only credited writers of this song are Prince Paul, Trugoy, Posdnuos and Maseo.

The Magic Number

2 Responses

  1. Greg Scavezze says:

    No mention of Bob Dorough in this article? This song was obviously sampled from his version from ’73 and School House Rock……


  2. Anonymous says:

    Yeah… seems like the the author of this piece didn’t do his research, what with missing the obvious homage to Schoolhouse Rock.

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