Why Francis and Benedict won’t answer the accusations dividing their church

Why Francis and Benedict won’t answer the accusations dividing their church CNN 4 hrs ago By Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor © L’Osservatore Romano/Getty Images/File One rarely leaves his monastery high on a hill in Vatican City. The other speaks freely — too freely, critics say — but has vowed silence on this matter, for now.
Two men, both clad in white, both called Holy Father, and now, both facing questions about a crucial facet of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis: What did they know, and when?
Amid the onslaught of news about the scandal, it can be easy to overlook the historical novelty and high drama of this moment in the life of the church: For the first time in 600 years, there are two living popes, one retired and one active, whose fates may be intertwined, even as many of their followers are at odds.
It has been nearly a month since a former papal diplomat published a dramatic letter asserting a “homosexual networks” and widespread cover-ups within the highest levels of the Catholic Church.
The diplomat, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, demanded that Pope Francis resign for allegedly lifting sanctions that his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, had placed on an American cardinal accused of sexual misconduct.
Whether those sanctions actually existed is a question that Francis and Benedict seem uniquely qualified to answer. But neither the 91-year-old German scholar, nor the 81-year-old Argentine Jesuit has said a word about them.
Supporters of both popes cast their silence in spiritual terms, forms of discipline and faith that truth will be revealed, eventually. Others say Benedict and Francis are loath to descend into a mudslinging fight with a former employee. Some wonder if more mundane strategies may be at work, too, such as self-preservation.
Meanwhile, many Catholics are clamoring for answers, anxious that the scandal, with its many troubling questions, could irreparably mar the church’s moral reputation and undermine trust in its leaders.
Since Benedict’s abdication in 2013, the two popes have taken pains to avoid awkward images or public spats.
But in the United States and beyond, Benedict is held by conservatives as a life raft in a sea of moral relativism. Francis is beloved by liberals for his reform-mindedness, focus on poverty and openness to new ideas. While many American Catholics still like Francis, his popularity has plummeted in the last year, according to a recent CNN poll .
“Maybe some people … are not very happy with Pope Francis, so they dream about” Benedict, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Pope’s current ambassador to the United States, said at an event Wednesday in New York.
“At times our feelings are overwhelming, so instead of looking at reality as it is, you know, we judge reality from our own feelings, our resentments, our disappointments. And so, we say, ‘This Pope, I don’t understand him,’ and we dream about the other.”
The sex abuse scandal has exacerbated tensions between the two camps as both fight for high moral ground. Francis and Benedict know everything they say can be twisted and used in those skirmishes, friends and advisers say, and are mindful of mistakes they’ve made in the past.
So, while their factions fight online, both popes have kept their silence about Vigano.
Theories and inter-church debates have rushed into the vacuum, to many survivors’ dismay. Clergy celibacy, homosexuality, seminary culture, even liturgy have been conscripted into left-right debates about the true source of the church’s troubles.
Francis has spoken often about the church’s clergy abuse crisis at large. He wrote an emotional letter after August’s damning Pennsylvania grand jury report , repeatedly apologized in Ireland last month for that country’s scandals and convened emergency meetings in Rome with American church leaders.
But many Catholics are urging him to be more forthcoming about Vigano’s accusations. More than 46,000 Catholic women have signed an open letter to Francis, writing “to pose questions that need answers.”
“We need leadership, truth and transparency,” the women wrote. “We, your flock, deserve your answers now.”
Other Catholics say Benedict is the pope who has questions to answer.
Vigano’s accusations The chief accusation against Francis comes from Vigano, who served both Benedict and Pope Francis as nuncio, or papal ambassador, to the United States from 2011 to 2016.
Francis has said he fired Vigano for plotting a 2015 meeting with Kim Davis , the Kentucky clerk who became a conservative cause célèbre for refusing to sign same-sex marriage licenses.
In an 11-page letter published August 25, Vigano tore into his former Vatican colleagues, accusing them of turning a blind eye to “homosexual networks” within the church, according to the archbishop.
Vigano’s chief evidence of this secret Catholic subculture comes in the person of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick , the former Archbishop of Washington, who was forced to resign this summer over accusations that he molested an altar boy and sexually abused young seminarians.
Now 88, McCarrick has denied the allegation about the altar boy and appealed his case to the Vatican after an investigation by the Archdiocese of New York found the accusation credible. He has not responded to the accusations about the seminarians.
For years, reports about McCarrick’s misconduct with seminarians passed through the hands of powerful cardinals and archbishops, who apparently did nothing about them, according to Vigano. McCarrick himself was made a cardinal in 2001.
Finally, Vigano says, in 2009 or 2010 Pope Benedict XVI placed “canonical sanctions” on McCarrick, ordering him to live a life of prayer and penance away from the public eye.
But those sanctions have come under sharp questioning. Photographs and videos show McCarrick hobnobbing with church leaders, including Benedict and Vigano himself, at high-profile church events while the sanctions were supposedly in place.
The website that published Vigano’s letter, National Catholic Register , now says the sanctions were not a “formal decree, just a private request” by Benedict to McCarrick.
If the sanctions were a “private request,” Francis’ supporters say, how was he supposed to enforce them?
Vigano’s agenda has also been questioned. In addition to the Davis fiasco, he has aligned himself with conservatives opposed to aspects of Francis’ papacy, including his efforts to change elements of church teachings.
But some allegations in Vigano’s letter appear to be backed by documents, including a newly unearthed letter from a top Vatican official indicating that Catholic leaders had known about McCarrick’s alleged misconduct with seminarians since 2000.
In the United States, conservative bishops have vouched for Vigano’s character and called for an investigation of his allegations about McCarrick. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops had asked the Vatican to lead the probe, with its leadership traveling to Rome last week to make the request in person.
In a statement Wednesday, the bishops’ conference said it still supports an investigation but made no mention of the Vatican.
The Vatican has not responded to requests for comment about a potential investigation into McCarrick.
‘He is trying to save the church’ On the day Vigano’s accusations broke, the Pope was asked about them on the plane ride home from Ireland.
“I will not say a single word about this,” he said. “I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions. It’s an act of faith. When some time passes and you have drawn your conclusions, I may speak.”
Next Tuesday, the Pope will again face reporters, on a papal flight back from a four-day visit to the Baltic states.
While Francis has kept silent about Vigano so far, Pierre, his new ambassador, offered a glimpse of how the Pope may be approaching this situation.
Much has already been written and said about the Pope’s Jesuit background — perhaps too much, joked Pierre, ribbing his hosts, the Jesuit-run America Media, at Wednesday’s event in Manhattan.
“They think they know everything, the Jesuits,” Pierre said with a laugh.
But “discernment,” a key part of Jesuit spirituality, plays an important role in Francis’ life, the nuncio said. Discernment, as described in the Jesuits’ Spiritual Exercises , is a way to contemplate complex situations and make sound decisions.
“It’s the capacity to analyze the situation in the light of Christ and the Spirit,” Pierre said.
Pierre said he saw Francis put discernment into practice while traveling with him through Mexico, where the nuncio was previously stationed.
“He is discerning all the time. He’s in touch with reality. He has no idea already-made before he sees things.”
“Maybe Providence is working in that,” Pierre continued, “to have chosen somebody who has this capacity, this experience and this patrimony of the Jesuits and the Spiritual Exercises, precisely to guide the church in this difficult time.”
One of the Pope’s closest confidants, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, said the Pope sees the Vigano letter as part of a conservative campaign to disrupt his papacy, and ” draws energy from the conflict. “
Still, Francis has acknowledged errors in his handling of clergy sex abuse.
After dismissing allegations against a bishop accused of cover-ups, the Pope in April said he had made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception” of Chile’s abuse scandal. The Pope later accepted that bishop’s resignation , along with several other Chilean bishops.
“He knows that he has made big mistakes on this, and he realizes that they were bad judgments, and now he wants to be cautious about not making the same mistakes,” said Massimo Faggioli, a professor of church history at Villanova University in Philadelphia.
Francis also likely sees Vigano’s accusations as part of a larger problem within the church: Catholic bishops face sexual misconduct allegations on several different continents right now.
(On Wednesday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced new policies to police bishops, including a hotline to field complaints.)
“I believe that Francis is trying to do something bigger than defend himself,” Faggioli said. “He is trying to save the church.
“The problem is that the real person who should respond to Vigano’s letter is not Francis,” the professor continued. “It’s Benedict.”
The ‘private’ Pope Since retiring in 2013, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has lived a quiet, almost cloistered life. Now 91, friends say that he is frail but mentally sharp.
In his farewell address as Pope, Benedict promised to stay “hidden” from the world, even as he knew his unique personal history would make a complete disappearance nearly impossible.
Private letters between Benedict and a German cardinal publishedlast week in Germany reveal his concern for privacy, and that he not be seen as interfering in church matters.
In one letter, Benedict defends his decision to resign, when he became the first Pope in 600 years to abdicate St. Peter’s Throne.
“With ‘pope emeritus,’ I tried to create a situation in which I am absolutely not accessible to the media and in which it is completely clear that there is only one pope,” he wrote.
But Benedict’s decision to retire as “pope emeritus” has had its own complications. Some conservative Catholics look to him as an anti-Pope, or at least an anti-Francis.
The Rev. Joseph Fessio, an American Jesuit who studied under Benedict and has published his works at Ignatius Press, said the former Pope likely knows of the efforts to pit him against Francis.
“In some ways, he has become the face of ‘the Resistance,’ ” Fessio said, “even though he hasn’t done anything to be a resistor.”
When Benedict does make public remarks, conservatives often scour them for hints of unhappiness at the church’s current situation, or leader.
Last year, a Catholic website ran a piece under the headline ” Benedict XVI is silent, but we all know what he thinks. “
In the piece, the author argues that Benedict’s praise of a deceased cardinal’s faith in the church, that he held faith in the church “even if at times the ship is almost filled to the point of shipwreck,” could be interpreted as a dig at Francis. (The late Cardinal Joachim Meisner had also publicly questioned Francis’ decision to open the door for remarried Catholics to receive Communion.)
Benedict’s longtime aide, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, called the interpretations of the former Pope’s remarks “stupid.” But Fessio isn’t so sure.
“He’s got a very wry sense of humor, and he understates things,” Fessio said. “He’s not going to say, ‘The church is a mess under Francis.’ But his support for Meisner was a semi-coded message that he is aware of what’s going on in the church right now.”
Ganswein has said the former Pope will not comment on Vigano’s letter, knocking down reports that he had approved its contents as ” fake news .”
Besides a reluctance to be seen as interfering, Benedict may have other reasons to hold his tongue, some Catholics say.
He was Pope from 2005 to 2013, when much of the alleged misconduct outlined in Vigano’s letter took place. Even allies acknowledge that Benedict did not lead the Vatican curia with a firm hand.
“When it comes to Benedict, it’s damned if you did, and damned if you didn’t,” said Paul Elie, a Catholic journalist who has written about the relationship between the two popes.
“If Benedict knew about the allegations against McCarrick and didn’t put him under sanctions, that’s not good,” Elie said. “And if Benedict didn’t know about the allegations, that’s not good either.”
But Fessio and other Catholics say Francis should answer Vigano’s charges, instead of making vague remarks about “scandal” and “division” during morning homilies at Casa Santa Marta, his Roman residence.
“He’s attacking Vigano and everyone who is asking for answers,” Fessio said. “I just find that deplorable. Be a man. Stand up and answer the questions.”
Many church watchers expect that Francis, or perhaps the Vatican’s press office, will eventually, answer Vigano’s charges. The question is, when?

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Why Francis and Benedict won’t answer the accusations dividing their church

(CNN) One rarely leaves his monastery high on a hill in Vatican City. The other speaks freely — too freely, critics say — but has vowed silence on this matter, for now.
Two men, both clad in white, both called Holy Father, and now, both facing questions about a crucial facet of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis: What did they know, and when? Amid the onslaught of news about the scandal, it can be easy to overlook the historical novelty and high drama of this moment in the life of the church: For the first time in 600 years, there are two living popes, one retired and one active, whose fates may be intertwined, even as many of their followers are at odds. It has been nearly a month since a former papal diplomat published a dramatic letter asserting a “homosexual networks” and widespread cover-ups within the highest levels of the Catholic Church. JUST WATCHED Archbishop wants Pope Francis to resign Replay More Videos … MUST WATCH
Archbishop wants Pope Francis to resign 03:07 The diplomat, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, demanded that Pope Francis resign for allegedly lifting sanctions that his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, had placed on an American cardinal accused of sexual misconduct. Read More Whether those sanctions actually existed is a question that Francis and Benedict seem uniquely qualified to answer. But neither the 91-year-old German scholar, nor the 81-year-old Argentine Jesuit has said a word about them. Supporters of both popes cast their silence in spiritual terms, forms of discipline and faith that truth will be revealed, eventually. Others say Benedict and Francis are loath to descend into a mudslinging fight with a former employee. Some wonder if more mundane strategies may be at work, too, such as self-preservation. Meanwhile, many Catholics are clamoring for answers, anxious that the scandal, with its many troubling questions, could irreparably mar the church’s moral reputation and undermine trust in its leaders. JUST WATCHED Why this Pope’s resignation shocked the world Replay More Videos … MUST WATCH
Why this Pope’s resignation shocked the world 01:03 Since Benedict’s abdication in 2013, the two popes have taken pains to avoid awkward images or public spats. But in the United States and beyond, Benedict is held by conservatives as a life raft in a sea of moral relativism. Francis is beloved by liberals for his reform-mindedness, focus on poverty and openness to new ideas. While many American Catholics still like Francis, his popularity has plummeted in the last year, according to a recent CNN poll . “Maybe some people … are not very happy with Pope Francis, so they dream about” Benedict, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Pope’s current ambassador to the United States, said at an event Wednesday in New York. “At times our feelings are overwhelming, so instead of looking at reality as it is, you know, we judge reality from our own feelings, our resentments, our disappointments. And so, we say, ‘This Pope, I don’t understand him,’ and we dream about the other.” The sex abuse scandal has exacerbated tensions between the two camps as both fight for high moral ground. Francis and Benedict know everything they say can be twisted and used in those skirmishes, friends and advisers say, and are mindful of mistakes they’ve made in the past. So, while their factions fight online, both popes have kept their silence about Vigano. Theories and inter-church debates have rushed into the vacuum, to many survivors’ dismay. Clergy celibacy, homosexuality, seminary culture, even liturgy have been conscripted into left-right debates about the true source of the church’s troubles. Francis has spoken often about the church’s clergy abuse crisis at large. He wrote an emotional letter after August’s damning Pennsylvania grand jury report , repeatedly apologized in Ireland last month for that country’s scandals and convened emergency meetings in Rome with American church leaders. But many Catholics are urging him to be more forthcoming about Vigano’s accusations. More than 46,000 Catholic women have signed an open letter to Francis, writing “to pose questions that need answers.” “We need leadership, truth and transparency,” the women wrote. “We, your flock, deserve your answers now.” Other Catholics say Benedict is the pope who has questions to answer. Vigano’s accusations The chief accusation against Francis comes from Vigano, who served both Benedict and Pope Francis as nuncio, or papal ambassador, to the United States from 2011 to 2016. Francis has said he fired Vigano for plotting a 2015 meeting with Kim Davis , the Kentucky clerk who became a conservative cause célèbre for refusing to sign same-sex marriage licenses. In an 11-page letter published August 25, Vigano tore into his former Vatican colleagues, accusing them of turning a blind eye to “homosexual networks” within the church, according to the archbishop. Vigano’s chief evidence of this secret Catholic subculture comes in the person of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick , the former Archbishop of Washington, who was forced to resign this summer over accusations that he molested an altar boy and sexually abused young seminarians. JUST WATCHED Pope accepts resignation of prominent cardinal Replay More Videos … MUST WATCH
Pope accepts resignation of prominent cardinal 01:40 Now 88, McCarrick has denied the allegation about the altar boy and appealed his case to the Vatican after an investigation by the Archdiocese of New York found the accusation credible. He has not responded to the accusations about the seminarians. For years, reports about McCarrick’s misconduct with seminarians passed through the hands of powerful cardinals and archbishops, who apparently did nothing about them, according to Vigano. McCarrick himself was made a cardinal in 2001. Finally, Vigano says, in 2009 or 2010 Pope Benedict XVI placed “canonical sanctions” on McCarrick, ordering him to live a life of prayer and penance away from the public eye. But those sanctions have come under sharp questioning. Photographs and videos show McCarrick hobnobbing with church leaders, including Benedict and Vigano himself, at high-profile church events while the sanctions were supposedly in place. The website that published Vigano’s letter, National Catholic Register , now says the sanctions were not a “formal decree, just a private request” by Benedict to McCarrick. If the sanctions were a “private request,” Francis’ supporters say, how was he supposed to enforce them? Vigano’s agenda has also been questioned. In addition to the Davis fiasco, he has aligned himself with conservatives opposed to aspects of Francis’ papacy, including his efforts to change elements of church teachings. But some allegations in Vigano’s letter appear to be backed by documents, including a newly unearthed letter from a top Vatican official indicating that Catholic leaders had known about McCarrick’s alleged misconduct with seminarians since 2000. In the United States, conservative bishops have vouched for Vigano’s character and called for an investigation of his allegations about McCarrick. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops had asked the Vatican to lead the probe, with its leadership traveling to Rome last week to make the request in person. In a statement Wednesday, the bishops’ conference said it still supports an investigation but made no mention of the Vatican. The Vatican has not responded to requests for comment about a potential investigation into McCarrick. ‘He is trying to save the church’ On the day Vigano’s accusations broke, the Pope was asked about them on the plane ride home from Ireland. “I will not say a single word about this,” he said. “I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions. It’s an act of faith. When some time passes and you have drawn your conclusions, I may speak.” Next Tuesday, the Pope will again face reporters, on a papal flight back from a four-day visit to the Baltic states. While Francis has kept silent about Vigano so far, Pierre, his new ambassador, offered a glimpse of how the Pope may be approaching this situation. Much has already been written and said about the Pope’s Jesuit background — perhaps too much, joked Pierre, ribbing his hosts, the Jesuit-run America Media, at Wednesday’s event in Manhattan. “They think they know everything, the Jesuits,” Pierre said with a laugh. But “discernment,” a key part of Jesuit spirituality, plays an important role in Francis’ life, the nuncio said. Discernment, as described in the Jesuits’ Spiritual Exercises , is a way to contemplate complex situations and make sound decisions. “It’s the capacity to analyze the situation in the light of Christ and the Spirit,” Pierre said. Pierre said he saw Francis put discernment into practice while traveling with him through Mexico, where the nuncio was previously stationed. “He is discerning all the time. He’s in touch with reality. He has no idea already-made before he sees things.” “Maybe Providence is working in that,” Pierre continued, “to have chosen somebody who has this capacity, this experience and this patrimony of the Jesuits and the Spiritual Exercises, precisely to guide the church in this difficult time.” One of the Pope’s closest confidants, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, said the Pope sees the Vigano letter as part of a conservative campaign to disrupt his papacy, and ” draws energy from the conflict. ” Still, Francis has acknowledged errors in his handling of clergy sex abuse. JUST WATCHED Pope defrocks priest amid sex abuse scandal Replay More Videos … MUST WATCH
Pope defrocks priest amid sex abuse scandal 01:36 After dismissing allegations against a bishop accused of cover-ups, the Pope in April said he had made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception” of Chile’s abuse scandal. The Pope later accepted that bishop’s resignation , along with several other Chilean bishops. “He knows that he has made big mistakes on this, and he realizes that they were bad judgments, and now he wants to be cautious about not making the same mistakes,” said Massimo Faggioli, a professor of church history at Villanova University in Philadelphia. Francis also likely sees Vigano’s accusations as part of a larger problem within the church: Catholic bishops face sexual misconduct allegations on several different continents right now. (On Wednesday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced new policies to police bishops, including a hotline to field complaints.) “I believe that Francis is trying to do something bigger than defend himself,” Faggioli said. “He is trying to save the church. “The problem is that the real person who should respond to Vigano’s letter is not Francis,” the professor continued. “It’s Benedict.” The ‘private’ Pope Since retiring in 2013, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has lived a quiet, almost cloistered life. Now 91, friends say that he is frail but mentally sharp. In his farewell address as Pope, Benedict promised to stay “hidden” from the world, even as he knew his unique personal history would make a complete disappearance nearly impossible. Private letters between Benedict and a German cardinal published last week in Germany reveal his concern for privacy, and that he not be seen as interfering in church matters. In one letter, Benedict defends his decision to resign, when he became the first Pope in 600 years to abdicate St. Peter’s Throne. “With ‘pope emeritus,’ I tried to create a situation in which I am absolutely not accessible to the media and in which it is completely clear that there is only one pope,” he wrote. But Benedict’s decision to retire as “pope emeritus” has had its own complications. Some conservative Catholics look to him as an anti-Pope, or at least an anti-Francis. The Rev. Joseph Fessio, an American Jesuit who studied under Benedict and has published his works at Ignatius Press, said the former Pope likely knows of the efforts to pit him against Francis. “In some ways, he has become the face of ‘the Resistance,’ ” Fessio said, “even though he hasn’t done anything to be a resistor.” When Benedict does make public remarks, conservatives often scour them for hints of unhappiness at the church’s current situation, or leader. Last year, a Catholic website ran a piece under the headline ” Benedict XVI is silent, but we all know what he thinks. ” In the piece, the author argues that Benedict’s praise of a deceased cardinal’s faith in the church, that he held faith in the church “even if at times the ship is almost filled to the point of shipwreck,” could be interpreted as a dig at Francis. (The late Cardinal Joachim Meisner had also publicly questioned Francis’ decision to open the door for remarried Catholics to receive Communion.) Benedict’s longtime aide, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, called the interpretations of the former Pope’s remarks “stupid.” But Fessio isn’t so sure. “He’s got a very wry sense of humor, and he understates things,” Fessio said. “He’s not going to say, ‘The church is a mess under Francis.’ But his support for Meisner was a semi-coded message that he is aware of what’s going on in the church right now.” Ganswein has said the former Pope will not comment on Vigano’s letter, knocking down reports that he had approved its contents as ” fake news .” Besides a reluctance to be seen as interfering, Benedict may have other reasons to hold his tongue, some Catholics say. He was Pope from 2005 to 2013, when much of the alleged misconduct outlined in Vigano’s letter took place. Even allies acknowledge that Benedict did not lead the Vatican curia with a firm hand. “When it comes to Benedict, it’s damned if you did, and damned if you didn’t,” said Paul Elie, a Catholic journalist who has written about the relationship between the two popes. “If Benedict knew about the allegations against McCarrick and didn’t put him under sanctions, that’s not good,” Elie said. “And if Benedict didn’t know about the allegations, that’s not good either.” But Fessio and other Catholics say Francis should answer Vigano’s charges, instead of making vague remarks about “scandal” and “division” during morning homilies at Casa Santa Marta, his Roman residence. “He’s attacking Vigano and everyone who is asking for answers,” Fessio said. “I just find that deplorable. Be a man. Stand up and answer the questions.” Many church watchers expect that Francis, or perhaps the Vatican’s press office, will eventually, answer Vigano’s charges. The question is, when?

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De La Soul: 3 Feet High and Rising Album Review | Pitchfork

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Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the groundbreaking 1989 debut album from hip-hop legends De La Soul.
Their aim had simply been to make some space to raise their own voices. At that moment, in 1989, when hip-hop seemed surer of its destiny than at any time since, De La Soul gave us a glimpse into their coming-of-age, and let us listen to the sound of three (well, four) Americans working out how to hear each other and move forward together in a cruel world.
Consider that in the preceding 12 months, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back , Straight Outta Compton , Critical Beatdown , Lyte As a Rock , and In Full Gear had made a massive impact in hip-hop. All of these records commanded attention, wore their sizable ambitions on their jackets. But while their New School peers stood tall, offering righteousness ( Public Enemy ), rebellion ( N.W.A. ), street wisdom ( MC Lyte ), style-war futurism ( Ultramagnetic MC’s ) and crowd-pleasing showmanship (Stetsasonic) to hip-hop’s expanding audiences, De La Soul were the quiet kids lingering at the edge of the cipher, withdrawn and a little mysterious, conversing in coded language meant to distance themselves from all the big personalities jockeying for position around them.
They were largely known as a trio—Kelvin “Posdnous” Mercer, Dave “Trugoy the Dove” Jolicoeur, and Vincent “Pasemaster Mase” Mason—a little left-field, a lot obsessed. As thoughtful and opinionated students of the culture, their wainscoted suburban rooms were strewn with rare dusty records plundered from their parents’ collections, and they financed their passions as janitors who came to their jobs rocking gold fronts. In 1987, the three young men enlisted a ringleader and mentor in Stetsasonic’s DJ Paul “Prince Paul” Huston, who could match their kookiness pound-for-pound. With his yuk-yuk scatology, technical skill, and bottomless trove of pop-cult records, Prince Paul stepped in like a madcap hybrid of Malcolm McLaren and George Martin .
All four of them had gone to Amityville Memorial High in the Black Belt of Long Island, between the white-fled city and the whites-mostly exurbs, the same socio- and psycho-geography that produced Public Enemy, Rakim , Biz Markie , and MF DOOM . They made music with an abiding trust in each other and an intense devotion to craft. Their process was: OK, we’ve made this beat, joke, metaphor, rhyme style, now how do we take it up another level?
3 Feet High and Rising emerged fully formed, offering a world as richly imagined as anything American pop has ever produced. Just as hip-hop was firmly establishing itself as the most avant of pop’s garde, the best of their peers—from smooth operator Big Daddy Kane to Blastmaster KRS-One to Living Colour ’s Vernon Reid—showed up at their release party to salute their achievement. Even KRS, who had just dropped what would come to be recognized as one of the best albums in hip-hop history, said it couldn’t compare what De La Soul had just made. While huddled in Los Angeles to finish their own sample-heavy Paul’s Boutique , the Beastie Boys reportedly listened to 3 Feet High, despaired, and briefly considered starting all over again.
What they all heard in it was an unprecedented assemblage of sound. Four years before, Marley Marl had accidentally unlocked the power of the sampler—a technology that allowed time to be captured and manipulated. The sampler vaulted hip-hop out of its inferiority complex. Now it too could meet the sonic ambitions of rock, funk, jazz, and soul. Like their peers, Prince Paul and De La Soul set about using it to build a world.
The album sounded like a hip-hop version of the novelist Dos Passos’ America, crowded with voices, rhythms, rhymes, and the wit, joy, and pain of becoming aware of one’s power to change the world. And De La Soul felt like the closest hip-hop equivalent to Parliament and Funkadelic : high-concept, hilariously genuine, generously human.
Along with their Native Tongues peers, they were as generative as sunshine, spawning fertile new scenes around the world, including LA’s True School, the Bay Area’s indie underground, Atlanta’s Dungeon Family, Detroit’s network of Dilla and his acolytes, and subsequent generations of self-identified indie rappers, including Mos Def , Talib Kweli , and Common . More broadly, 3 Feet High and Rising helped secure a new alignment of hardcore street heads with an emerging global audience of fans, the foundation of the soon-to-be-named “hip-hop nation.” Thirty years later, it remains one most influential records of the storied class of 1988-89.
But the narrative of the album is still framed by a tired contrast between the rise of N.W.A. and the West Coast gangsta rap and that of De La Soul and the Native Tongues’ ”completely unthreatening ” “ message of positivity. ” De La never asked to be the saviors of hip-hop, much less to answer for all the supposed pathologies that critics wanted to put on Black masculinity and Black popular culture. Instead, De La Soul defined their outsiderness through a weird, wild, and wholly self-referential creativity. Their MC names were “Sounds Op” and “Yogurt” spelled backwards. Their album would be full of inside jokes, invented slang (“A phrase called talk” was their rhyme style, “Public Speaker” was a dope emcee, “Buddy” was a hot body, and “Strictly Dan Stuckie” meant “awesome”), and an odd mix of preoccupations ranging from TV to Aesop’s fables to Luden’s cough drops to, of course, sex. The culture wars were raging all around them, the central fact defining N.W.A.’s work. But De La’s world was small, insular, and, in many ways, refreshingly naïve.
While he was still in high school in 1984, Prince Paul had been recruited into the Brooklyn crew, Stetsasonic, to serve as their showcase DJ. Stet sold itself as the first hip-hop band, a live act with studio chops, even predating the Roots. But as the scene evolved away from Old School showpeople toward New School bedroom lyricists and producers, Stetsasonic changed its style. Their 1988 album In Full Gear offered one path forward for hip-hop: a slick, high-def sound. Paul had become a key member of the production team, but he felt under-credited, and he also knew that the New York sound was shifting toward dusty sampler aesthetics. (Polish and sheen would not return to the forefront until Dr. Dre ’s 1992 debut The Chronic .) He felt creatively stifled.
At the same time, Posdnous, Trugoy, and Mase were putting together “Plug Tunin’,” a song that had evolved out of a live routine the crew rocked over the “ Impeach the President ” break. But then Pos pulled from his father’s collection a rare doo-wop record by the Invitations called “ Written on the Wall .” (Later, Tommy Boy stirred a small frenzy among the nascent crate-digging community when it offered $500 to the first person who could identify the sample. The prize went unclaimed for a long while, firmly establishing De La Soul and Prince Paul as beat-diggers par excellence .)
In the Long Island tradition of leaving no record unturned , “Written on the Wall” was on the B-side. Printed on the flip were helpful instructions for radio DJs needing to know what to play: “Plug Side.” From this odd detail, De La Soul developed an album concept: They were transmitting their music live from Mars through microphones—Pos on Plug One, Trugoy on Plug Two. It was an audacious step away from both Old School party-rocking and New School realism. Their lyrics didn’t lean too heavily on Five-Percenter cosmology or Afrocentric ideology for conceptual depth. They were striving for their own new rap language.
Armed with this obscure 45, a cassette deck, and a lo-fi Casio RZ-1, the crew slowed the routine to a toddler crawl and recorded it. They rocked head-scratching metaphors (Plug One: “Dazed at the sight of a method/Dive beneath the depth of a never-ending verse”) and odd riddles (Plug Two: “Vocal in doubt is an uplift/And real is the answer that I answer with”) in neatly matched cadences. When Paul heard the hissy demo, he knew he had found kin. He took them to re-record “Plug Tunin’” at the hip-hop hotspot, Calliope Studios, and they were on their way. Tommy Boy signed them to an album contract soon after and De La Soul began building their sonic world on a shoestring budget of $25,000. Over a two-month period, they learned how to work the expensive studio gear as they made the record.
The Black suburban imagination of Long Island rappers offered a distinctive kind of street romance and horror. Public Enemy rapped about cruising the boulevards in muscle cars, their adrenaline amping up their politics of provocation. De La Soul’s second single, “Potholes In My Lawn,” was a battle rhyme refracted through the brutal status consciousness of the ‘burbs. De La played the family on the block coming into success, only to be met with the envious rage of the Joneses next door. Trugoy complained, “I don’t ask for a barbed wire fence, B, but my dwellin’ is swellin’.” Meanwhile, imitating wannabes lurked in the bushes. These rhyme-biting rappers took the form of vermin leaving unsightly craters all over the front yard. The crew repatched the potholes with daisies. Individuality trumped suburban conformity.
As De La Soul and Prince Paul moved deeper into recording, they developed a kind of one-upmanship, trying to shock each other by procuring deeper records to thicken a song’s gumbo. The tracks became dense with info, opened up to jarring risk and surprise. Their lyrical ambitions also multiplied, as the group sought new ways to retell timeless adolescent tales.
Built on a sample of ’60s bombshell Maggie Thrett’s “ Soupy ,” “Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin’s Revenge)” was interrupted by an energetic Liberace performance of “Chopsticks.” The hormonal frenzy and awkwardness of teen lust were summed up in the half-terrified, half-grateful cry Maseo let out after his first kiss: “And I hollered !” These were not suave girl-stealing Old School or New School lovermen. When Jenifa inevitably moved on, Pos dropped his head in shame: “Don’t flaunt that the candy’s good, unless you can get plenty.”
As buzz built in advance of the album’s release, the label gave the group’s image a full makeover. De La Soul already had style—the gold fronts had given way to funky fades, Afrocentric fabrics, and African medallions. But their new look was designed by the hip London and New York-based Grey Organisation, who heightened the crew’s difference from their peers by giving them neon palettes and flattening them into Keith Haring-like 2-D. In the words of designer Toby Mott, the Grey Organisation wanted to critique “the prevailing macho hip-hop visual codes which dominate to this day.”
But as Dave, who dropped his stage name “Trugoy” somewhere after the second album, recounted to Rob Kenner in the documentary De La Soul Is Not Dead , “I think, for me, it was just the photo shoots. I mean, every damn photo shoot you could bet there was a florist hanging around with flowers. And I mean, come on man, flowers? That’s not what it’s really about.” The Black suburban crew had set out to express their difference, but now they began to realize that their pop success was making them into something they were not. On their subsequent albums, the tension between the joy of release and the control over their image—especially as Black men—would lead them to make some of the most important records in American pop.
Late in the recording process, Tommy Boy label head Tom Silverman asked for a radio-friendly unit shifter. Maseo obliged by suggesting they sample Parliament’s 1979 hit single “(Not Just) Knee Deep” for “Me Myself and I.” Paul agreed and flipped the track into an irresistible crowd mover. Trugoy did the bulk of the lyric writing, working from the Jungle Brothers’ “ Black is Black ” rhyme pattern and responding to the now proliferating “hip-hop hippie” articles with a “let us live” message. He rapped,
Proud I’m proud of what I am Poems I speak are Plug Two type Please oh please let Plug Two be Himself, not what you read or write Write is wrong when hype is written On the Soul, De La, that is Style is surely our own thing Not the false disguise of show-biz
Silverman once credited De La Soul as being the group that jumpstarted rap’s “third generation.” The first generation had taken rap from the parks to records, and the second had taken it from records to the arenas. The third reclaimed it for themselves—reinventing traditions and busily making new revolutions. They idolized the energy and accomplishments of the first, while trying to displace the second.
The video for “Me Myself and I” put the crew back in high school to be bullied by teachers and classmates who are gold-roped, troop-suited Old Schoolers. In the end, only De La Soul made it out of the classroom and into the waiting world. The song triumphed over an increasingly fragmented hip-hop map, propelling them out of certain obscurity. As hip-hop reached a new level of sales and visibility, “Me Myself and I” reached No. 1 on the R&B charts.
But success threatened the group. On their first national tour, the crew seemed to recoil from their audiences. They trudged through low-energy sets anticipating the inevitable conclusion, having to perform “Me Myself & I,” as if their biggest hit had been their biggest mistake. Even later, long after they had become one of hip-hop’s best live acts, they would still introduce the record by asking the crowd to chant, “Say, ‘We hate this song!’”
Worse were the physical threats. From coast to coast, antagonistic fans and managers tried to roll them, believing their allusions to peace, love, and daisies made them soft hippie marks. Word soon got out that De La Soul was knuckling up and taking down heads from Rhode Island to Cincinnati to Denver.
Dejected and besieged, they returned to New York to their management’s office one day and stared up at a whiteboard full of upcoming tour dates for all the acts, including their own. Trugoy decided he had had enough. Taking an eraser, he wiped off all their dates, and wrote instead: “De La Soul is Dead.” The guys laughed. Now they had something to look forward to—album two.
If Black complexity had been the meta-message lost in De La’s big crossover, abstraction, abjection, and humor were the winning trifecta of 3 Feet High and Rising . The skits and interludes poked fun at more of their obsessions—funky smells (“A Little Bit of Soap”), fashion trends (“Take It Off”), and porn flicks (“De la Orgee”). The funniest featured hip-hop party-starters veering off script (“Do As De La Does”). The game show skit might have been a transferral of rap’s meritocratic competition into something absurd—no one wins but the audience: Were you not entertained?
Four months after the album’s release, after the album had gone gold, lawyers for the Turtles filed a lawsuit against De La Soul for the use of four bars from their song, “You Showed Me.” Paul and the group had cleared 60 of the more than 200 samples on the record. But the Turtles sample, used on “Transmitting Live From Mars,” in which Paul scratched a French-language instruction record over the loop, was not. At the time, the one-minute song sounded like an amusing non-sequitur. Nearly thirty years later, the string loop sounds ominous and claustrophobic, a sonic analogue for the legal purgatory to which De La Soul’s back catalog has been consigned.
Although the group and the label eventually settled with the Turtles, Warner Brothers has not maintained physical formats for De La Soul’s back catalog, and has refused to make these albums —including 3 Feet High and Rising , De La Soul Is Dead , Buhloone Mindstate and Stakes Is High —available in digital and streaming formats. Label heads, who own Tommy Boy’s pre-2002 catalog in full, have apparently decided that the potential labor and expense of sample clearances are too much to bear. De La Soul have previously volunteered to do the labor of re-releasing the catalog, but Warner was not interested. They have been denied the right to profit from their work, and we have been denied the ability to listen to and share some of the most important records in our shared musical history.
It is true that many of the Black artists sampled by hip-hop producers have also been denied the profits of their work. It is also true that works by so-called minorities—whether the sampled or the sampling—suffer disproportionately from the land-grabbing, barbed-wire-fence-erecting, tons-of-guns-defending mentality that drives the growing corpus of intellectual property law. What is currently called copyright protection is also the wholesale locking away of people’s labor, legacy, and inheritance. The current structure of sampling law functions like—because it is—a process of cultural erasure, a glaring and expanding cultural injustice.
In 2011, 3 Feet High and Rising was added to the Library of Congress National Registry of Recordings. Even that honor prompted no action from Warner Brothers. So on Valentine’s Day in 2014, De La Soul gave away digital files of their entire Warner catalog to their fans. That sharing has been the only official digital release of these records, which remain locked away in that null existence between copyright orphanhood and full viability.
Questlove told New York Times reporter Finn Cohen, “I mean, 3 Feet High and Rising is very much in danger of being the classic tree that fell in the forest that was once given high praise and now is just a stump.” We are left to ask: as history is made and remade, who can be heard in America?
On the album’s proper opener, “The Magic Number,” over a sample of the “Schoolhouse Rock” theme song and a chopped version of John Bonham’s huge drum break from “ The Crunge ,” Pos and Trugoy had rocked a virtuoso, rapid-fire manifesto full of mind-spinning wordplay. Pos positioned hip-hop as the new insurgency:
Parents let go cause there’s magic in the air Criticizing rap shows you’re out of order Stop look and listen to the phrase, Fred Astaires, And don’t get offended while Mase do-si-do’s your daughter
Trugoy described his creative process:
Souls who flaunt styles gain praises by the pounds Common are speakers who honor the scroll Scrolls written daily creates a new sound Listeners listen ‘cause this here is wisdom
By the end, Mase and Paul were scratching snippets at a fast and furious rate— Steinski , Syl Johnson , and Eddie Murphy all fly by before Johnny Cash suddenly drops in to give the album its title: “How high’s the water, mama? Three feet high and rising,” a Johnny Cash line was taken from a reverb-drenched performance of “Five Feet High and Rising,” a blues in the grand tradition of Mississippi River flood songs .
De La Soul were making a point about the power of culture to mobilize people to action or immobilize them with fear. It was an idea they explored more explicitly on their fable, “Tread Water.” There were animals, squeaky organs, friendly humming—at the time, journalist Harry Allen called it the most African song he’d heard in hip-hop—but “Tread Water” also offered perhaps the most ambitious hope on the record, that De La’s music might help us all elevate our heads above the water. In this polar-cap-melting, politically disastrous age, the song feels prophetic.
Today’s debate over sampling is mostly mind-numbingly narrow, shaped largely by big-money concerns that are ahistorical, anti-cultural, and anti-creative. The current regime rewards the least creative class—lawyers and capitalists—while destroying cultural practices of passing on. Post-hip-hop intellectual property law rests on racialized ideas of originality, and preserves the vampire profits of publishing outfits like Bridgeport Music , that sue sampling producers while preventing artists like George Clinton from sharing their music with next-generation musicians, and large corporations like Warner Brothers that continue to disenfranchise Black genius.
By contrast, the processes of sampling and layering on 3 Feet High and Rising and other hip-hop classics of that era demonstrate the opposite: expansively, giddily democratic—Delacratic, even—values.
Pos’s production on “Eye Know” put Steely Dan into conversation with Otis Redding and the Mad Lads, his work on “Say No Go” Hall and Oates with the Detroit Emeralds. The musical chorus of “Potholes in My Lawn” pointed not only to Parliament’s 1970 debut Osmium , but to the African American roots of country and western music.
Together, the sampled sounds of the Jarmels, the Blackbyrds, the New Birth, and even white artists like Led Zeppelin, Bob Dorough, and Billy Joel, make a strong case that all of American pop is African-American pop, from which everyone has been borrowing. Sampling—De La Soul sampling Parliament, Obama sampling Lincoln, Melania sampling Michelle—is nothing less than the American pastime, the creative reuse of history amid the tension between erasure and emergence that is central to the struggle for the republic. No one can ever do it as big as De La Soul did.

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