Back in the day I wore oversized plaid shirts and baggy jeans. I’d put on MuchMusic (Canada’s version of MTV at the time) and sit beside my VCR and vigilantly watch Rap City, Soul in the City, and X-Tendamix, the urban music shows, recording hip-hop videos. There were, and still are, very few strong female MCs. One of the most notable was Ladybug. Years before (okay, only about three or so) Lauryn Hill from the Fugees wowed me with her verse on “Nappy Heads” there was Ladybug Mecca from Digable Planets, wowing me with hers on “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)”.
Digable Planets consisted of three members: Ladybug (Mary Ann Vieira), Doodlebug (Craig Irving), and Butterfly (Ishmael Butler). Butterfly and Ladybug met in college and formed the group in the early 1990s, later joining forces with Doodlebug. In 1993 they released their debut album Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space). The album, amalgamation of hip-hop, jazz, funk, and soul, was solely produced by Butterfly. While Digable Planets were not the first nor the last artists to incorporate hip-hop and with these other styles, they best exemplify this sub-genre. The album was heavily sampled from the likes of Fred Wesley & the JB’s, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Herbie Mann, Curtis Mayfield, the Crusaders, and the Last Poets. Hey, who needs 10+ guest on an album when you’ve sampled funk, jazz, and soul’s heavy hitters?
On Reachin’ lyrics were laid back, cerebral, political, and smooth. Digable Planets covered a wide spectrum of topics from their neighborhoods (“Where I’m From”) to abortion (“La Femme Fetal”). Their first and most well known single, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” reached #15 on the Billboard magazine charts. Shortly after Digable Planets debuted, they garnered many accolades including a 1993 Grammy for “Rap Duo or Group”. I actually recorded their Grammy performance – they performed “Rebirth of Slick” changing one of the lyrics to coincide with awards show.
There were three singles from the Reachin’ album: “Rebirth of Slick,” “Nickel Bag of Funk,” and “Where I’m From.” My personal favorites? Basically everything on the album. It’s one of the tapes I pretty much wore out. Don’t sleep on less famous tracks: be sure to check out “Jimmi Diggin Cats” and “Pacifics.”
Digable Planets followed up their debut with Blowout Comb in 1994. This album guest featured Jeru the Damaja, Jazzy Joyce, and the late Guru. Blowout Comb was a praiseworthy – yet underrated – followup to Reachin’. Staying true to its predecessor, Blowout Comb was still laid back, with the ability to be hard hitting without being hardcore. My favorite track on this album: “9th Wonder.”
Sadly, Digable Planets broke up in 1995 citing “creative differences”. However, the members continued with their own musical pursuits. Butterfly started a hip-hop/blues group called Cherrywine and released an album called Bright Black in 2003. Ladybug renamed herself Ladybug Mecca and released an album Trip the Light Fantastic in 2005. Ladybug Mecca also joined the forces of Prince Paul, Chali 2na (Jurassic 5), Scratch (the Roots), and Wordsworth to form hip-hop supergroup the Dino 5 (a hip-hop album intended for children http://dino5.com/). Doodlebug now also known as, Cee Knowledge, is the front man for touring band Cee Knowledge and the Cosmic Funk Orchestra (http://www.myspace.com/ceeknowledge). This past year Butterfly and Doodlebug headlined a Digable Planets tour together with their respective groups, but without Ladybug Mecca. Rumour has it that Ladybug Mecca was no longer a member due to contractual issues.
Check out the tracks below and check out Reachin’ and Blowout Comb, if you haven’t already done so. Definitely one of my most favorite groups ever.
- Reminisce With M.I.S.S.: Pete Rock & CL Smooth
- We Got The Beat: Shabazz Palaces
- SF 2/28: GOODIE MOB Reunion Tour
- Reminisce With M.I.S.S. – Slick Rick
- SF 12/5: Rockit Room SF