Digable Planets had no grand plans 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 February 9, 1993.
At the time it was just the nature of the game: do what you feel, if it's real… and fresh.
“It was very much a genre play,” Ishmael Butler aka Butterfly said in a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment on the classic rap record's 30th anniversary. (see full interview below). “Your own style has to prevail in order for you to get noticed. ‘Cause if you were a biter, you couldn't really survive back then, 'cause people didn't really covet [acts that] Seemed like someone else.
“If someone calls you bitter, you can fight.”
Any beef was expressed in silence. although they dug up the essence Public Enemy, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr and Brand Nubian, DP influences – including Craig “Doodlebug” irving and Mariana “Ladybug” Vieira – weren't being labeled beaters by anyone because they were jazz Roads. Everything about his crazy boogie voices and funky beats, from his crate-dug jazz-stack samples to his musical lyrics star trek and Sartre references the conceptual metamorphosis of their special nature as a tribe of interstellar insects by way of way into Sector Six.
As hip-hop was transitioning from its renaissance to its golden age and splintering off in many directions (the Afrocentrism of Native Tongues, the gritty street sound of Wu-Tang, the G-Funk reinvention of the West Coast), Digable Planets made its debut. Crafted mythology for long-haired hippies and Afro blacks, rapping about flowers and pearls and peace and naps while kneeling at the secular altar of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
,we love it where we're from but we kill it where we are,
While Galaxy was discovering six blocks from Mars on its record, the Earthbound planet eventually became synonymous with Brooklyn. However, its concrete kids are from all over the map. Butler was born and raised in Seattle, but frequently visited relatives in Philadelphia, where he began working closely with Philly native Irving, who attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., along with Maryland-born Vieira. Did. He entered a swoon unit in Philly in the late 80s, and moved to new york in the early 90s to record are reaching',
Vieira says, “I remember being so young and having a hard time financially, being a young artist in a big city … You know, these two are my chosen families.” “Deciding to either record this album or go to the dollar van for dinner 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 in 1992 gave them ample studio time and space. found.
The discovery of a particular sample sent Digable into dimensions unthinkable: bass flush and horn rush. Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers, The fevered 1978 composition “Stretching.” However, for their craziest hits, the ends were lowered into a circular orbit of the planets.
“Basically I was in a group at the time called Dread Poets Society, and we used the sample for a song called ‘Skin Treatment,'” explains Irving. “When I hooked up with Ish, he wanted to hear what I was doing with my old group, and I let him hear. … He was feeling it, and then I saw that his brain was starting to leak. at last he asked [if we could] Use it for our demo. I asked the group, everyone was cool with it. He went in, flipped it, put his magic on it, and it became the song we know today.
The song was “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)”, becoming an instant hip hop classic as Ladybug predicted in her verse. Even if it kicked them out of Hell.
“You didn't feel like it at the time,” Butler insists. “No one knew anything … You can't predict anything.”
Released three months prior to the album's street date, “Cool Like Dat” created a buzz and helped lead are reaching' Pop and Transcend would soon follow, with two more singles – “Where I'm From” and “Nickel Bags” in the top 15 of the Billboard Hot 100. The trio earned a massive fanbase, ranging from ghetto-dwelling youth to burgeoning youths.
Ask any Digable fan, though, and there isn't a single skip in the LP's mega-cool 14-track tapestry of smacked-out soul. Ask DP himself, and his favorites reside mainly in B-sides and deep cuts: “What Kool Breeze Do.” “Time Interval”. “Jimmy Diggin' Cats.” “Unconscious Units.” “Exam of what.”
“If Roe v. Wade Was overturned…”
One track that has proved particularly prescient three decades later: “La Femme Fatale,” an intimately personal spoken word ballad from Butterfly that details the plight of a platonic female friend with a miscarriage. “If Roe v. Wade overturned, then will the desire not remain intact? Titli asks on the track.
“I had friends who were going through it, I had a girlfriend who was going through it with me too,” Butler says now that many states have rolled back reproductive rights in the wake of the Supreme Court's controversial 2022 ruling. Considered in 1993. “I never really thought of it as a political song. i thought of it more like the blues [song],
“One thing I take away from watching it is that it's still relevant, with so many things, issues of gender, issues of race and class. [and] Issues of economic equality, equity of all kinds, it's not like it circles around. No, that's what they do. you know what I'm saying? It's always going to be like this.
Or as Butters laments on record, fascists are some heavy dudes.
“Maybe then we'll make some changes”
In 1994, when Digable Planet reached what some artists could consider the pinnacle of their careers, winning a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance (for “Cool Like Dat”), the Sky crew reunited to speak out on the issues. Seized the moment for. Race and class and economic equality.
“We want everyone to think about the people who live right outside this door,” Butler told the audience at Shine Auditorium in Los Angeles. “As you're sitting in these $900 seats and $300 seats, they're not eating there at all.”
Butler's next sentence—either cryptic or obvious, depending on whom you ask—caused a huge buzz: “Furthermore, we want to say to the universal black family that one day we will recognize our true enemy, and we Everyone will stop attacking.” Other. And maybe then we'll see some change.”
Butler now says: “It [was] Really a message for those who will understand what it means. …and it was more proof that when we were coming up, money and fame were always something we kept an eye on because we knew the corruption that came with it. We are told and taught.
“To be young and flamboyant like that, I'm glad it 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 attitude. So I'm just proud that I was among the people who instilled it in me and I was with the people who reinforced it in me. … We got respect and we didn't just think about ourselves, we cared about other people. Also thought about Because we were straight up at that time.
“we solidified ourselves as something solid”
are reaching' earned a Grammy and cemented Diggable as one of hip-hop's most exciting, most enigmatic new acts. So he followed those funny sounds… a virtual 180. Whereas are reaching' 1994 was breezy and groovy and psychedelic and fresh blowout comb was hard-hitting and urgent and cerebral and revolutionary. The smoothness of the horns remained intact, but the ethos evolved clearly and dramatically.
The label fixed it, but radio would not play it. There was no breakout single (though “9th Wonder” and “Creamy Spice” remain undeniable hip-hop classics). No Top 20 Billboard ranking. No Grammy.
But any true Diggable disciple will have a Sophie's Choice trying to consecrate one album over another.
“Honestly, it's got more legs,” Butler said of his sophomore release. “It's almost seen as a more classic album are reaching' Is. … To me, [Blowout Comb] That is what is allowing us to maintain relevance today. Not that it was a commercial success, but it tasted good. It had cool vibes, it had substance, and we solidified ourselves into something solid.
,we're still trying to figure it out,
two years. Two classic, near-perfect records. So how in the world hasn't this lovably weird group of bugs released another album?
Doodlebug laughs and says, “That's the million-dollar question.”
The group was surrounded by a gang of murks and broke up shortly after its release. blowout combbut reunited in 2005 and have been touring together ever since.
Butler says, “It really vibes, man.” “It's like when you were 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 years later. But I look more at what we were able to accomplish rather than what we weren't able to accomplish once it was done, you know? And I think the cats had different ideas and different desires. It wasn't really funky [among us], But at a certain point, even though in our hearts we wanted to keep going as individuals… there are aspects of it that are just for us to really grapple with and try to understand, who we are today.
Irving agrees, “It's hard to pinpoint the vibes.” “It vibes that we were all individuals. We all had our own agendas. And then once the group broke up, you're human and you get caught up in emotions. We needed time to step away, figure it out.” Who we wanted to be and what we wanted to do later.
“There were personal and professional issues that we had to deal with,” Vieira says. “We were also really young, and things happen and course changed.”
Ultimately, the vibes were not taken lightly. “After a while we got back together,” Irving smiled. “We missed this s**t. i miss being around [these] cat's. I miss making music with him, I miss hanging out with him. And we all felt the same way. But it's still a work in progress. We're still trying to figure it out. Luckily, we're still here.
It is good to have them here. And yes, there's still the possibility that a third Digable Planets album could someday arrive. from the celestial After all, it's all relative. Time is unreal.
“We're together now, so I'm hopeful for the future,” Vieira says.
“We think about making new music, we think about it all the time,” Butler promises. “We talk about it too often.”
Good vibes, it's snowing, as they would say.
Digestible Planet is currently transiting. watch his upcoming shows Here,