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3041706, How Digable Planets Debut Revolutionized Rap - RS swipe|
Posted by c71, Wed Feb-01-23 04:42 PM
How Digable Planets’ Crate-Digging Debut Revolutionized Rap
30 years after its February 1993 release, a new generation of forward-thinking artists cite Reachin’ as a touchstone
BY ARIELLE LANA LEJARDE
FEBRUARY 1, 2023
JOHN MORRISON WAS 10 years old when he started making beats on his Casio RZ-1, the same drum machine sampler that Prince Paul used to produce for De La Soul’s landmark 3 Feet High and Rising. Three years later, in 1993, Morrison heard Digable Planets’ debut album, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) — and it changed the way he viewed music forever.
“When Digable Planets came out with Reachin’, it was magic,” says the beatmaker-turned-writer-slash-DJ, who went on to interview the Brooklyn trio for the now-defunct local newspaper The Philly Word, and to write the artist bio that still sits on their website. “We had so much hip-hop, jazz, and this long history of Black music playing together through sampling and rappers referencing jazz… They took all of these references from our parents’ and grandparents’ music and brought it right to us.”
Digable Planets didn’t just touch the beatmakers who were starting out in the early Nineties — they reached those who came before them, too. DJ Premier, one of the group’s key predecessors, remembers hearing “Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” the lead single from Reachin‘, for the first time. “They immediately caught my attention,” he says. “Because the jazz-sampling era was a totally new thing. That song sent me directly toward connecting with their whole movement. They’re an important part of hip-hop’s archives.”
Journalist, historian, and author Dart Adams was 17 when he heard “Rebirth Of Slick.” Thirty years later, he still holds the album, and its cassette tape liner notes, close to his heart. “You don’t know what that tape and the tiny print meant to me,” he says. “I spent years looking for the film that ‘Pacifics’ was supposedly on the soundtrack of…”
Craig “Doodlebug” Irving and Mariana “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira laugh when they hear Adams’ story. All these years later, they’re still learning how much of an impact their debut had on people.
“Can’t believe people are still talking about it,” Doodlebug says. “Just living in the moment at that time, we just had fun doing what we love to do. Never thought it would have such a legacy where younger people know about us and actually come to the shows, listening to the music. Never imagined that, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
(He confirms that the track Adams referenced, titled “Pacifics — From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack ‘N.Y. Is Red Hot’,” isn’t actually on any soundtrack. They were just having fun with it.)
“I was reflecting back on that recently and thinking how I was 19 years old when *(Reachin’) came out,” Mecca adds. “It really is a blessing, and it’s kind of ill to think how long it’s been. Time has just flown by, and people are still discovering it every day.”
This year, Digable Planets will launch a thirtieth-anniversary tour around Reachin’. Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler — Digable Planets’ third lyricist and main producer — hopes everyone can get one thing from watching them perform the record live: “Energy,” he says. “That energy of somebody being fortunate and luck. And then coming to physically be present and vibrate, make sounds and music and connect and get something back.”
Digable Planets’ debut continues to influence new generations of musicians and music lovers today. Twenty-eight-year-old rapper AKAI SOLO, the newest signee on billy woods’ Backwoodz Studioz, wasn’t even born when Reachin’ came out, yet he says “Rebirth of Slick” had a major impact on his songwriting style. “In my opinion, (it) could be an example of a perfect rap song,” he says. “It was smooth without compromising bars. ‘We be to rap what key be to lock’ is such a good bar. Lines like that reminded me that you can be succinct and heavy simultaneously. No need to choose a side. Do both.”
Mecca, in particular, has hugely influenced today’s generation of rappers in jazz-influenced hip-hop. Pink Siifu, a young rapper who’s been cooking it up in the studio with her, has nothing but good things to say. “Hearing Ladybug Mecca’s voice taught me that I ain’t gotta be aggressive,” Siifu says. “Ladybug Mecca is the first cool voice of rap shit.”
Mavi praises Mecca’s ability to keep her ear to the ground. “She reached out to me so long ago,” says the North Carolina rapper behind last year’s acclaimed Laughing So Hard, It Hurts. “She’s really tapped in with a lot of homies like Pink Siifu and Zero. She showed me a lot of love very, very early on. So when she did that, I instantly ran and told my dad.” Mavi is known to be outspoken about his socio-political beliefs, constantly using his platform to uplift young Black folks, in a way that can be reminiscent of Digable Planets’ candor inside and outside of music.
Dart Adams remembers the day Digable Planets won a Grammy for “Cool Like Dat” in 1994. (They took home Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, but lost out to Toni Braxton for Best New Artist.) “People were enamored with Digable Planets in the mainstream, but they didn’t completely get them,” Adams says. “Then, there were heads that got them, but they were like, ‘I just wish they didn’t have so much crossover appeal.’”
Butler used their Grammy acceptance speech to make a statement. “On behalf of my crew, we accept this award on behalf of hip-hop music and Black culture in general,” he said. “We want everyone to think about the people outside this door that’s homeless as we’re sitting in these $900 seats. They’re out there not eating at all.”
“We respected them for it,” Dart recalls. “We were like ‘Yo, that’s dope. They who we think they are!’ Or they ain’t who they think they are, either.”
When critics in 1993 praised Digable Planets for revolutionizing rap, they were usually referring to their unwavering moral compasses or their idiosyncratic jazz sampling. (The liner notes to Reachin‘ credit Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Dave Hubbard, Eddie Harris, and more, sampled by Butler and his co-producers, Mike “Launching An Attack” Magini and Shane “The Doctor” Faber.) But the group insists they weren’t the first to do any of that. “We made music in a time when it was an ongoing musical revolution that was coming from rap,” Butler continues. “It was about being inspired, influenced, and participating in.”
Baton Rouge rapper Wakai, a 22-year-old lyricist known for his creamy cadence and multigenre blend of beats, says he wouldn’t be here without Digable Planets. “Them as a group changed my whole perception,” he raves. “Everyone had their own role, but they were so cohesive. And their fusion of jazz and hip-hop was just beautiful. I vividly remember my dad playing (their music) and being like, ‘This beat is crazy!’”
One year after the release of Reachin’, Digable Planets released their more politically-charged sophomore album, Blowout Comb. Despite less label support, the record would go on to become a fan favorite. All three members continue to make music independently, with Butler creating another successful hip-hop group, Shabazz Palaces. However, they’ve also continued to reunite as Digable Planets, because the music they make continues to resonate.
“It’s like the music and the group exists outside of us, almost,” Butler says. “It’s also like I feel responsible. Who could ever imagine that 30 years from now, I will be able to go and do a Digable Planets show without constantly cultivating new music? So, the luck of that, the fortune of it — it’s not even about whether I want to or not. It’s that I get to, you know what I’m saying? I’m lucky enough to be able to do something.”
Posted by ProgressiveSound, Wed Feb-01-23 09:41 PM
3041722, Are they serious with this?|
Posted by My_SP1200_Broken_Again, Fri Feb-03-23 10:50 AM
...Digable Planets were cool (no pun), but they were not revolutionary in any way ..when they dropped in 93, they were late to the game with the jazzy / alternative shit that Tribe and many others groups had already been doing for years. In fact, in 93 that style was about to fade away in favor of more grimy hard shit like BCC & Wu Tang (not to mention west coast taking over) I still like them as a group, but "Revolutionized Rap " nah lol.
3041724, Well, Digable Planets tried to make it more of a "brand" which....|
Posted by c71, Fri Feb-03-23 12:51 PM
denotes "going all-in"
Tribe and Gang Starr kept wanting to be "regular" hip-hop.
You got to recognize when a group goes "all-in" with a style. None of the others (besides US3 maybe) went "all-in"
3041752, A brand like "Jazzmatazz" ?? |
Posted by My_SP1200_Broken_Again, Mon Feb-06-23 10:39 AM
>denotes "going all-in"
>Tribe and Gang Starr kept wanting to be "regular" hip-hop.
Bullshit. Jazzmatazz, We got the Jazz.. whatever.. they were both seen as Jazzy Hip hop.. DP however was on some gimmick shit which they abandoned on their 2nd LP before disappearing. I get it though, DP had a "hit" record and caught a grammy so the pop world see's them as most important lol.
>You got to recognize when a group goes "all-in" with a style.
>None of the others (besides US3 maybe) went "all-in"
again.. thats bullshit
Posted by c71, Tue Feb-07-23 10:19 AM
3041730, I don't know if I could quite call them revolutionary|
Posted by obsidianchrysalis, Fri Feb-03-23 10:00 PM
But they did ride a line between the Tribe's infectious beats and De la's abstract lyricism and wittiness that was unique.
And maybe this is the head in me, but if the band has a truly revolutionary album it's Blowout Comb. Reachin' was good and more consistent than Blowout Comb, but BC's highs are higher.
3041762, As much as I love the Jazzmatazz series…|
Posted by Knowledge_of_Self, Mon Feb-06-23 06:23 PM
Digable was definitely a cut above the rest.
Their sound was distinctive and it sounded different from everyone who tried to fuse the genre’s.
On top of that they gave the illest speech ever when they won their Grammy to even dispel the notion that they were a gimmicky type group.
Blowout Comb was more than likely the best release in ‘94.
They still draw people off for their shows 30 years later.
They’re definitely all-time greats!
3041769, Haha what they say ?|
Posted by Brew, Tue Feb-07-23 10:12 AM
>On top of that they gave the illest speech ever when they won
>their Grammy to even dispel the notion that they were a
>gimmicky type group.
3041774, RE: Haha what they say ?|
Posted by Knowledge_of_Self, Tue Feb-07-23 11:09 AM
3041780, Oh that was good. Love it.|
Posted by Brew, Tue Feb-07-23 12:20 PM
3041810, The dopest shit ever!!!|
Posted by Knowledge_of_Self, Wed Feb-08-23 07:44 AM
3042870, RE: The dopest shit ever!!!|
Posted by TR808, Mon May-22-23 12:50 PM
hey Bro! 94 was an exceptional year for Hip Hop Releases. Blowout Comb definitely was one of them. But lets relax with the "CHanged Hip hop forever talk."
3042874, RE: Haha what they say ?|
Posted by Original Juice, Mon May-22-23 03:51 PM
Kinda cool that Ish's baby moms (Coco from SWV) was one of the presenters
regarding the speech.. that was very cool. You can tell from tidbits like that as well as the album artwork for Blowout Comb that DP's (especially Ish) was on that revolutionary/political prisoner/socialist vibe. Not exactly 2pac with it, but the other side of the same coin.
3041775, Doodlebug, is that you?|
Posted by Nick Has a Problem...Seriously, Tue Feb-07-23 11:30 AM
3041800, RE: As much as I love the Jazzmatazz series…|
Posted by My_SP1200_Broken_Again, Tue Feb-07-23 05:03 PM
>Blowout Comb was more than likely the best release in ‘94
3041817, Haha yea that's hella irresponsible.|
Posted by Brew, Wed Feb-08-23 09:55 AM
>>Blowout Comb was more than likely the best release in ‘94
3041828, RE: Haha yea that's hella irresponsible.|
Posted by Knowledge_of_Self, Wed Feb-08-23 07:42 PM
No it’s irresponsible to regurgitate the same ol’ viewpoints and not think for yourself.
3041838, lol wat|
Posted by Brew, Thu Feb-09-23 10:14 AM
3041916, Trust and believe I have ZERO time to explain it to you!|
Posted by Knowledge_of_Self, Mon Feb-13-23 06:23 AM
3041927, You're a weird guy Ace. Weird guy. ©|
Posted by Brew, Mon Feb-13-23 11:09 AM
3042877, We all have to believe....|
Posted by The3rdOne, Tue May-23-23 09:53 AM
that it was the best album of 94, because that's thinking for ourselves
3042864, I don’t think that statement is that crazy|
Posted by Anonymous, Sun May-21-23 12:06 PM
It’s a damn great album.
Personally its probably in my top 10-12 but it’s not crazy to think someone who prefers that style of hip-hop over street shit would think it’s the best album of 94.
3042863, Yeah, we all know The Main Ingredient was the best….|
Posted by DJR, Sat May-20-23 07:07 PM
In all seriousness, I probably like Blowout Comb as much as or more than everything not named Main Ingredient and Illmatic.
3042878, Crazy Arguements|
Posted by doitall76, Tue May-23-23 03:53 PM
I personally very much like Blowout Comb, but when you look at the albums that came out in 1994:
Ready to Die
Hard to Earn
The Main Ingredient
It is very hard for me to say that Blowout Comb tops the list, but I understand the feeling. Resurrection, Main Ingredient, and Southernplaylistic get the most play for me.
How the hell do we try to make definitive statements on such an interpretive subject matter???? This is art, ART! Art is interpretive, art is something that hits people differently. Someone from the south is likely going to state that Outkast or Scarface or UGK had the best album, and to them they did.
Stop trying to tell people that their feeling is wrong, or that your opinion is fact. No your opinion is an opinion based on how that album connected to what you were going through at that time.
I am happy that we got to experience Digable's albums, because they were dope as hell. I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard 9th Wonder (Blackitolism) "Jazzy Joyce on the wheels, no one smoother, phatter than a '94 Land Cruiser". That in itself tells me how dope it was, it imprinted on me. Dope album.
3041818, went to see them |
Posted by Crash Bandacoot, Wed Feb-08-23 10:12 AM
at newport jazz fest last year, love going to their shows. everytime i
see them live they always deliver, the vibe is unmatched.
3042862, 30 year celebration of "Reachin'" - yahoo|
Posted by c71, Sat May-20-23 05:46 PM
Digable Planets talk 30 year Anniversary of Reachin'
Together again 30 years after their debut, Digable Planets reveal why they only released 2 albums — and tease there could be more music in store
Jazz-rap trio Butterfly, Doodlebug and Ladybug reflect on debut album "Reachin’," their Grammy win and their prescient abortion-rights track.
Kevin Polowy·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
May 12, 2023
The Digable Planets didn’t have any grand scheme to introduce a radically new style of hip-hop when they dropped their seminal jazz-laced, funk-resurrecting debut album, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space), on Feb. 9, 1993.
That was merely the nature of the game back then: Do what you feel, if it’s real… and fresh.
“It was very much a style sport back then,” reflects Ishmael Butler, aka Butterfly, in a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment commemorating the classic rap record’s 30th anniversary (watch the full interview below). “Your own style had to prevail in order for you to get noticed. ’Cause if you was like a biter, you really couldn't survive back then, ’cause people didn’t really covet (acts that) sounded like somebody else.
“If somebody called you a biter, you could fight.”
Any beef was expressed in silence. Though they dug the essence of influences like Public Enemy, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr and Brand Nubian, the DPs — also including Craig “Doodlebug” Irving and Mariana “Ladybug” Vieira — weren’t being labeled biters by anyone as they jazzed up the streets. Everything about their crazy boogie sounds and funky, funk beats felt newfangled, from their crate-dug jazz-stack samples and seamlessly pivoted sing-songy poetics to their Star Trek and Sartre references to their idiosyncratic conceptual metamorphosis as a tribe of interstellar insects from way up in Sector Six.
As hip-hop was transitioning from its renaissance to its Golden Age and splintering in multiple directions (the Afrocentricism of the Native Tongues, the gritty street sounds of Wu-Tang, the West Coast’s G-funk reinvention), Digable Planets crafted their own mythology for long-haired hippies and Afro Blacks, rapping about flowers and beads and peaces and naps while kneeling at the secular altar of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
“We love it where we from, but we kick it where we at”
While galaxy questing six blocks from Mars on their records, earthbound the Planets ultimately became synonymous with Brooklyn. Its children of the concrete hailed from all over the map, though. Butler was born and raised in Seattle, but often visited relatives in Philadelphia, where he began rolling together with Philly native Irving, who attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., with Maryland-born Vieira. They forged into a swoon unit in Philly in the late ’80s, and hit New York in the early ’90s to record Reachin’.
“I remember just being so young and it was a rough time, financially, being a young artist in a big city by myself with no family … you know, these two are my chosen family,” says Vieira. “Making the decision to either get on the dollar van to record this album or eat that day (was) a real struggle.”
The trio collected samples in their minds — a Herbie Hancock loop here, a Parliament drum break there — as they plotted infinite beats and scripted raps until a deal with Pendulum Records into 1992 afforded them ample studio time and space.
The discovery of one particular sample sent Digable into unthought-of dimensions: the bass flush and horn rush of Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers’ feverish 1978 opus “Stretching.” Though the loops to their maddest hit landed in the Planets’ orbit in a roundabout fashion.
“Originally I was in a group at the time called the Dread Poets Society, and we used the sample for a song called ‘Skin Treatment,’” Irving explains. “When I hooked up with Ish, he wanted to hear what I was doing with my old group, and I let him hear it. … He was feeling it, and then I saw his brain started percolating. Eventually he asked (if we could) use it for our demo. I asked the group, everybody was cool with it. He went in, flipped it, put his magic to it, and it became the song that we know today.”
The song was “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” as Ladybug prophesied in her verse, Hip Hop gained an instant classic. Even if it surprised the hell out of them.
“You didn’t feel like that back then,” Butler insists. “Nobody knew nothing… You couldn’t predict anything.”
Released three months ahead of the album’s street date, “Cool Like Dat” built ticky-ticky buzz and helped propel Reachin’ into the Top 15 of the Billboard Hot 100, with two more singles — “Where I’m From” and “Nickle Bags” soon to pop and transcend. The trio earned a massive fanbase, from the ghetto-dwelling youth, to the bourgies in the burbs.
Ask any Digable fan, though, and there’s not a single skip across the LP’s mega-cool 14-track tapestry of smacked-out soul. Ask the DPs themselves, and their favorites reside primarily in the B-sides and deepest cuts: “What Cool Breeezes Do.” “Time & Space.” “Jimmi Diggin’ Cats.” “Swoon Units.” “Examination of What.”
“Because the Supreme Court is like, all in my uterus”
One track that has proven especially prescient three decades later: “La Femme Fatale,” an intimately personal spoken word piece from Butterfly that details a platonic female friend’s plight with abortion. “If Roe v. Wade was overturned, would not the desire remain intact?” Butterfly asks on the track.
“I had friends that was going through it, I had a girlfriend that was going through it with me as well,” Butler says now after multiple states have rolled back reproductive rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s controversial 2022 ruling doing exactly what he pondered in 1993. “I never really thought of it as a political song. I thought of it as a more like a blues (song).
“The one thing I take from seeing that it's still relevant is that, with a lot of things, issues of gender, issues of race and class (and) economic equality, issues of all type of equity, it's not like it circled back around. Nah, this is this what they do. You know what I'm saying? It's always gonna be like this.”
Or as Butter laments on the record, the fascists are some heavy dudes.
“Bugs take a stand, goddamn”
When the Digable Planets reached what some artists might consider the pinnacle of their careers, winning the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance (for “Cool Like Dat”) in 1994, the crew from the sky seized the moment to speak out again on issues of race and class and economic equality.
“We’d like for everybody to think about the people right outside this door that’s homeless,” Butler told the audience in Los Angeles’s Shine Auditorium. “As you sitting in these $900 seats and $300 seats, they not out there eating at all.”
Butler’s next sentence — either cryptic or obvious, depending on whom you ask — caused a bigger buzz: “Also, we’d like to say to the universal Black family that one day we gonna recognize our true enemy, and we gonna stop attacking each other. And maybe then we'll get some changes going on.”
Says Butler now: “It (was) really a message for those that would understand what it meant. … And it was more a testament of when we were coming up, money and fame was always something that we cast a weary eye on because we knew the corruption that came with it. We have been told and taught that.
“To be young and fiery like that, I’m glad that happened at that time because once you get older and have a little bit more responsibility, people lose that kind of fire and that kind of outlook. So I’m just proud that I was from people that instilled that in me and I was with people that bolstered that in me. … We received the honor and we didn’t just think about ourselves, but we thought about other people. Because that’s what we was on at that time, straight up.”
“The label may OK it but radio won’t play it”
Reachin’ earned a Grammy and cemented Digable as one of hip-hop’s most exciting, most esoteric new acts. So they followed those funkifying sounds with… a virtual 180. While Reachin’ was breezy and groovy and psychedelic and fresh, 1994’s Blowout Comb was hard-hitting and urgent and cerebral and revolutionary. The sleekness of the horns remained intact, but the ethos evolved starkly and dramatically.
There was no breakout single (though “9th Wonder” and “Creamy Spies” remain undisputed hip-hop gems). No Top 20 Billboard ranking. No Grammy.
But any true Digable disciple would have a Sophie’s Choice trying to anoint one album over the other.
“Honestly, it’s got more legs,” Butler says of their sophomore release. “It’s seen as almost a more classic album than Reachin’ is. … To me, (Blowout Comb) is what’s allowing us to keep relevancy today. Not that it was a commercial success, but it just had good flavor to it. It had good vibes, it had substance to it, and we solidified ourself as something substantial.”
“It’s good to be here”
Two years. Two classic, near-perfect records. So how in the world did this beloved weirdo group of bugs never release another album?
“That’s the million-dollar question right there,” laughs Doodlebug.
The group wallowed through a gang of murk and broke up not long after the release of Blowout Comb, but reassembled in 2005 and have been touring together on and off ever since.
“It's really vibes, man,” says Butler. “It’s like when you was 20, 23, 24, you know, the clothes you wore, the girlfriend you had, the friends you hung out with, you don't necessarily do that for years afterwards. But I look at it more like what we was able to accomplish rather than what we didn't do after we accomplished it, you know? And I think cats just had different ideas and different desires. It was never funky really (among us). But at a certain point in time, even though in our hearts we wanted to keep going as individuals… There's some aspects of it that are only for us to really grapple with and try to understand, which we still are to this day.
“It's hard to pinpoint vibes,” agrees Irving. “It's the vibes that we were all individuals. We all had our own agendas. And then once the group broke up, you're human beings and you catch feelings. We needed time to get away, figure out who we wanted to be and what we wanted to do afterwards.”
“There were personal and professional issues that we had to shoulder,” says Vieira. “We were also really young, and things happen and the course changed.”
Adds Butler: “We just broke up because we were young. We were just kind of dumb, in some regards, but just naive really, and thinking that we wanted to do other stuff, which we did.” (All three have released solo projects over the years: Butterfly with Shabazz Palaces, Ladybug as Ladybug Mecca, and Doodlebug as part of Cee Knowledge & the Cosmic Funk Orchestra.)
Ultimately, the vibes weren’t taken for granted. “After a while we came back together,” Irving smiles. “We missed this s**t. I missed being around (these) cats. I missed making music with them, I miss toured with them. And we all felt the same way. But it’s still a work in progress. We still trying to figure it out. Luckily, we still here.”
And yes, there’s still a possibility a third Digable Planets album could someday land from the celestials. It’s all relative, after all. Time is unreal.
“We are together now, so I’m hopeful for the future,” Vieira says.
“We think about making new music, we think about it all the time,” promises Butler. “We talk about it often as well.”
The good vibes, as they would say, are snowing.
Digable Planets are currently touring. See their upcoming shows here: