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: