This was a single taken from 3 Feet High and Rising, the debut album by the New York hip-hop group, De La Soul. It was the opening track and set the tone for the album, which is acknowledged as one of the most influential hip-hop records ever. The album was released on the Tommy Boy label.
The song's main sample is a segment of "Multiplication Rock" from the American children's TV program Schoolhouse Rock!.
Pasemaster Mase, Trugoy the Dove and Posdnous of De La Soul were interviewed by Rolling Stone to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the album's release. Posdnous recalled: "At that point, we were still trying things in Mase's house, just having fun with records. 'Multiplication Rock' was a record we just had and we were already in love with History of the Hip-Hop I record from Tommy Boy, where Double Dee and Steinski had the beat that was up top there, so we decided to just put those two together on our little Casio machine." Trugoy the Dove added: "There was no plan back then. It was just putting songs together and placing them where they belonged. Obviously three of us in the group, '3 is the magic number' became the philosophy, but mostly, it was just a song that we loved and it became part of the album."
The 3 Feet High and Rising album title comes from the Johnny Cash 1959 track "5 feet High and Rising." That's the Man In Black's voice you can hear on this song.
The De La Soul trio told Uncut the story of the song:
Posdnous: "We came up with 'The Magic Number' working in Mase's basement. We took the main sample from (Bob Dorough's) 'Three Is A Magic Number' on Multiplication Rock, then took Double Dee & Steinski's 'Lesson 3' for the drums."
Pasemaster Mase, continued: "We sampled them at my mother's house, on this little keyboard we had, a Casio SK1. It didn't even have an input on it so you could get a clear sample, you just had to put it right next to the speaker. So that's how we were doing pre-production then, before we even knew what pre-production meant.
I finally played (producer) Prince Paul things we had been working on on a four-track, dubbing cassettes and that. Paul was excited by what he heard, he was just as excited as I was. He was like, 'Man I gotta meet with your guys, I can't make no promises, but we could definitely go in the studio and clean all of this up and put all of this together. I'm gonna do my best to shop for a record deal for you guys."
Prince Paul eventually produced the track along with the rest of 3 Feet High and Rising.
Posdnous: "My rhyme honestly was just supposed to be about what I thought about me, and about what I was going through, but also coming together to give off the feeling of being three guys who have this magic bond."
Posdnous served notice here of what was to be De La Soul's D.A.I.S.Y. Philosophy.
Fly rhymes are stored on a D.A.I.S.Y. Production.
Trugoy the Dove laughed to Mojo; "That came from walking into the mall and seeing some silly Minnie Mouse shirt with a big daisy on. We looked at the word 'daisy' and thought, That would make a cool acronym."