Monday, May 2, 2011

Selected Readings from the Digable Planets Chronicles: Formation and early years

Reading the City Arts article got me thinking about the early origins of Digable so I checked out this book called Check the Technique: Liner notes for hip-hop junkies by Brian Coleman (Villard, 2007) which is the best document so far of this subject. As well as an unparalelled interview on the subject with Butterfly and Doodlebug, there's a song by song commentary on the debut album. Here's what they had to say about their breakthrough song "Rebirth of Slick (Cool like dat)":

Doodlebug: The original beat for that was off an old demo by my original group from Philly, Dread Poets Society, called “Skin Treatment.” It had that Art Blakely sample, the horns, the bass. Once I started to become more involved with Digable, then it worked its way in that direction. With Dread Poets, we never went to a studio- it was all homemade demos. Recording in studios costs money and we didn’t have any. I remember that the group didn’t think “Rebirth of Slick” was going to be the hit. I think the label chose it as the first single and we went along with it. Any of the songs would have been fine with us. The single came out in September or October of 1992, and then Giant Step [a popular, jazz-informed dance club in New York, which later became a record label as well] got behind the single and that helped a lot. Maurice Bernstein [of Giant Step] was very helpful. Right before the end of the year, Ruben Rodriguez called us to the label to meet somebody, and that person was Rosie Perez. She chose the groups who would appear on In Living Color and we were like: “Oh, hell yeah!” So after Christmas break, we flew to L.A. and filmed that episode. When it aired [on January 3, 1993], [sales of the single] just went crazy. The album was released early in 1993 [February 9] and we started touring, and it was over after that. That song got to the point were it was just everywhere, on the radio every five seconds.

Butterfly: We actually thought the song “Brown Baby Funk” would be the hit, and that one didn’t even make the album! We were definitely shocked when that song started blowing up. In Living Color is what pushed it over the edge.


I'd love to hear the old demo tapes that got Digable signed... hmm maybe one day as their legend grows more and more, the demand will be there. But then I remembered that there was footage of that very performance from 1992 on In Living Colour uploaded on to youtube (thanks to jackyabody0091) and here I present it to you. Also noteworthy for is that a young Jennifer Lopez dancing behind Ladybug at 1:38?? Digable always had great energy and positivity live, but this performance is on another level... they just seem so.. happy, hyped. Ladybug raps some new lines, everyone is just so energised, shame they cut off Doodle's verse; he must've been pissed off at that, but anyway here's the one that set it all off:


  1. holy shit!!....

    from "Youlogy":

    the nights are getting stronger and the days are getting longer
    the building's getting bigger, outside it's getting smaller
    the lies are getting truer and the truth is getting righter
    things are looking blacker, but blacker's looking whiter
    the price is getting higher and the buyers is the flyest
    the stars are never brighter, the good are getting tired
    yesterday you do it cause you got to have the new shit
    money always fools ya, so corney's getting cooler
    nothing's gonna stop it if it's bound to turn a profit
    [something something something] for this I let you watch it

  2. damn

    the final 3 songs

    hard for me to attend to other things today

    am now reading the City Arts article with a proper audio backdrop; the anti-focus on the past; the total-focus on the now&future/production/work/proof-in-the-pudding/outcome/content

    reminds me of outkast: "i met a gypsy and she hipped me to some life game, to stimulate and activate the left and right brain; said "baby boy you're only funky as your last cut, you focus on the past your ass'll be a has-but"

    it's found here in the album chant: "now if you talkin bout it, it's a show; but if you move about it, then it's a go."

    i like how the article rightly discerns "For a few brief moments, Black Up even revels in romance." reminds me of dead prez's first LP in that regard.

    coincidentally, “Swerve... The reaping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding)" has a similar melody as another Bootsy Collins track:

    relistening to both Bootsy tracks as well as "a mess, the booth soaks in palacian musk...", maybe the guitar licks in "a mess..." came from this latter Bootsy track instead of the original track shared?? for some reason I really hear Bootsy in those guitars.

    in disseminating Shabazz Palaces i find myself not bringing up Digable. too many bullet points from this shit alone; let them realize that themself then weigh how much that weighs.

    btw, i've harnessed the name "Shabazz" in various contexts since a grad student over a decade ago studying under the creator, curator and editor of - a leading research site on Malcolm X that includes over 25 full length speeches by Malcolm, for free. that was in Toledo, Ohio. I now work with him in the prairie's of Illinois, 2 hours south of chicago at the university of illinois

    ...and so on........

  3. I must say that that was the one 'error' I picked up on in the article, saying that Ish had never recorded a love song before Black Up. What about "In Here" from 1999? and "So glad for baby" from Bright Black?

  4. Good observation O! Although it was a collaboration with Hardison "Slower than love" counts too. Maybe even "Phone Sex" with Sharkey.

  5. Hey Stacia..... Ohhhh that Hardison track was ridiculous! The Sharkey track didn't do much for me though. "Slower than Love" was streaming for a while on Hardison's website but now it's gone. I'm about to check out if I can buy the mp3 now...