Following in the spirit of the Native Tongues, the NY hip-hop movement of the late ‘80s and early ’90s which emphasized intelligence, positivity, and self-expression, the trio of Butterfly, Doodlebug, and Ladybug Mecca were on a completely ‘nother vibe as Digable Planets. In 1993 they issued their first album, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space), an album which stood tall with other legendary hip-hop records of the era.
The DPs could be best described as cool. But not just any cool, but a Miles Davis Birth of the Cool-style cool. The group heavily borrowed from the ’50s jazz and beat culture and ’70s blaxploitation and funk, and rooted them in a gritty, early ’90s New York City aesthetic. They presented themselves as enlightened, bohemian urban bards, name-checking jazz greats such as Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk, reading Marx, burning incense, and avoiding unnecessary trouble in the ghetto (though they could very well bring the ruckus if they had to). They were a breath of fresh air in the hip-hop world, which at the time was firmly entrenched in ultraviolent gangsta rap, and gained much praise for their track, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat).”
“Escapism” is one of my faves from Reachin’. Over a sample of Herbie Hancock’s legendary “Watermelon Man” the group champions peace, uniqueness, and self-expression, presenting a groove which is just too smooth for words.
Rebirth of cool, indeed.
Originally posted on my old blog, Emaciated Wildebeest, on December 7, 2010.
But wait! It’s 2016 and I’ve got more to say!
I got the chance to see the group recently on their reunion tour, and it was seriously dope! The energy the trio brought and their superlative live band made it one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a long time. It was like they hadn’t been on hiatus for two damn decades. If they’re coming to your town, I wholeheartedly recommend you go check them out.