jazz is dead

digable planets

Digable Planets. Butterfly. Doodlebug. Ladybug Mecca. Each with their own distinctive flow. Butterfly (Ishmael Butler) with his Huey P Newton aura matched with agile, fluid lyrics like a Sonny Rollins solo verbalized. Doodlebug (Craig Irving) with Five Percent Nation scientifics, intellectual punchlines, and a battle emcee’s spirit. Ladybug Mecca (MaryAnn Santos Vieira), with a voice so distinctive, so clear, so smooth, not only does her voice sound melodic, you still hear little bits of her playful delivery inside of current emcees as varied as Nicki Minaj and Rapsody. Before The Fugees took the concept of a two male female emcee hip-hop trio to another level, Digable Planets originated the trend, altering the course of hip-hop history, erasing norms of what “crossover” hip-hop sounded like while winning the respect of jazz and funk musicians with the deep musicality of both their albums, 1993’s Gold “Reachin’ ( A New Refutation Of Time and Space)” and 1994’s “Blowout Comb”. Their biggest hit, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” is one of those unforgettable songs that you can’t unhear. The thumping bass, the smooth voices, the Blue Note horns, are something that hip-hop hasn’t experienced before…or since. “Rebirth of Slick” earned the group a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, and a worldwide presence. They could have easily rested on their laurels, but instead made “Blowout Comb”, a record so ahead of its time it deserves a spot next to albums it predated by several years: Black Star’s “Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star”, Dead Prez “Let’s Get Free” and Childish Gambino’s “Awaken My Love”. That was the problem: in terms of sound, style and politics, it was ahead of what the audience was expecting and the record label’s ability, pre-social media—to cultivate and harness. So they broke up…like that. And drifted apart like that. And went home. Butterfly created the Seattle hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces, Doodlebug founded the Philadelphia based Cee Knowledge & The Cosmic Funk Orchestra, and Ladybug created BROOKZILL! So like Aerosmith, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and A Tribe Called Quest, they realized they still had things to say and music to make together. In a hip-hop landscape bereft of melody and thoughtful lyrics, they’ve been re-discovered by a whole new generation of hip-hop fanatics clamoring for the golden age. So they’ve been touring…like that. Slaying crowds with a live band, as well as making new music. They look like themselves, they sound like themselves…they’re still Digable.