This was a single taken from 3 Feet High and Rising, the debut album by the New York hip-hop group, De La Soul. The long player was one of the most innovative records of the late 1980s, its merging of traditional hip-hop with humorous lyrics, abundant samples and jazz elements went on to inspire numerous artists. It was helmed by hip-hop producer and DJ Prince Paul, who at the time was keyboard player with Stetsasonic and the album was released on the Tommy Boy label. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the album's release De La Soul were interviewed by Rolling Stone. Pasemaster Mase of De La Soul recalled: "When I met Paul, he was trying to express a lot of different ideas with Stetsasonic and it wasn't working out too well. We were looking to be professionals at making records and he was a professional. It just really sparked."
Posdnous of De La Soul recalled to Rolling Stone: "That was the second to last song recorded for that album. Tommy Boy was loving how the album was going, but they felt like we needed an introduction song. That was the first time on this album where it was brought to our attention that we may need to make sure we have something that isn't so over someone's head. Mase and Paul had already mentioned trying something with one of the Funkadelic records. We did that record like it was nothing. We were surprised how big it got. Sometimes the simplest thing is what people can relate to."
De La Soul member Trugoy the Dove added: "Originally, it was us trying to make sure we're saying we're not hippies. We were just being ourselves. People are now taking the song to be, 'OK, it's cool to be me and I don't have to be hard' - it wasn't really about saying that, even though the video came off like that."
This was De La soul's only #1 single on the US R&B chart. It also topped the Billboard dance chart.
The song topped the singles charts in The Netherlands. Its elevation to the peak position was spurred by a documentary about De La Soul broadcast on the VPRO television station.
In the video, the group play high school students who are pushed to conform to traditional hip-hop norms. Q-Tip and Ali from A Tribe Called Quest make guest appearances, and their producer, Prince Paul, appears in the dialogue portion at the beginning, dropping this knowledge: "If you take three glasses of water and put food coloring in them, you have many different colors, but it's still the same old water. Make the connection?"