By: TK Kayembe
Digable Planets :: 11.16.08 :: The Fox Theatre ::: Boulder, CO
When hip-hop veterans Digable Planets surfaced in the early '90s, they instantly stood out in the rap community, breaking free from the gangsta rap norm by integrating smooth funk and cool jazz with conscious rap lyrics. In lieu of violent, drug-laced tracks about "the streets," Digable took a more righteous path. The skilled minds of Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler, Mary Anne "Ladybug Mecca" Vieira and Craig "Doodlebug" Irving create poems rather than mere songs, focusing on social and political issues with free-flowing lyrical topics including free jazz, unity, philosophy, living in New York and hanging out with friends. While the trio's debut album Reachin (A New Refutation of Time and Space) was a hit, it was their sophomore album, The Blowout Comb, that solidified their street cred, as well as their place in hip-hop history. The group reunited in 2005 to remind the world that their music is still accordant and relevant, and what better way than with a fantastic, energetic tour and a new album, which will be the first collective Digable Planets effort in over fifteen years.
Opening for Digable was Tomorrows Bad Seeds, a hip-hop infused reggae band from Los Angeles. Although the Fox Theatre wasn't packed at the commencement of their set, the Bad Seeds' laid-back rhythm turned heads and had bodies swaying to the beat. After their set, Digable's DJ Jedi took over the turntables and instantly got the crowd hyped, pulling out hip-hop greats from his crates, seamlessly transitioning from classic to classic. His short-but-sweet set included cuts from The Pharcyde, Black Sheep, Das EFX, Easy-E, and Lauryn Hill, just to name a few. Jedi closed his set off playing the jazzy intros to a few choice Digable Planets songs, coaxing the group to come out and satisfy the eagerly awaiting crowd.
Stepping on stage to deafening applause, Digable appeared with wide mouthed grins, visibly excited to be back in Colorado. Almost immediately, they exploded into "The May 4th Movement," throwing the showgoers into a music-induced frenzy. The pit became blurry with fists in the air, as the Planets hustled around, connecting with the crowd on an intimate level. Effortlessly, they bustled and hotfooted around the stage, working different parts of the theatre and making sure to issue out as many hugs and hand slaps as possible. The group led the congregation in many African-esque call and response sessions, allowing the three band members to really vibe with their audience and the audience a chance to take part in the show. Their charismatic energy kept an eager "what will they play next" smile on my face all night. On this evening, Butterfly was the most entertaining. Constantly dancing, moving, and grooving, he seemed so happy, so proud and so beholden. Butler absolutely shined, and many times he would close his eyes, his body fully captured by the beat and sway back and forth, glowing and beaming.
One fascinating element of the night was the light show. Typically hip-hop acts (outside of huge acts like Kanye West and T-Pain) have either a small or no light show to accompany their performance. Digable had active, multicolored lights dancing about the stage, perfectly accentuating their presentation. The diverse fan base accumulated was also highly impressive. Aside from the expected mid-20s to early-30s crowd, many younger kids encircled the stage. Notably, these kids were chanting lyrics and tearing up the dance floor, proving the wide spectrum of people Digable Planets' timeless music touches. The core trio was also supplemented by a touring live percussionist, who added an earthy, "this is live music" feeling. During set break, he performed a breathtaking percussion solo, full of funky breaks and African-inspired cut-time beats, throwing the crowd into an uproar.
|Digable Planets by Danny Fontaine|
Covering every aspect of their musical pilgrimage, Digable's setlist included hits from both of their award winning LPs, tracks from their upcoming album, as well as prize selections from their respective solo careers. It seemed no matter which song they were performing, the audience was more than ecstatic, singing right along with the group. Highlights from the set included, "It's Good to Be Here," "What Cool Breezes Do," "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)," "Dog It," "Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies)" and "Black Ego," with the closing encore being the powerful, upright bass driven "Pacifics."
From their then-revolutionarily use of early jazz recording samples in their tracks, to writing intuitive, au courant political raps, Digable Planets has more than perfected their sound as well as made an evident name for themselves. They're now back in the studio and slated to release a new album by summer 2009 that promises to be chock full of the soulful, funky grooves and fly raps. This new album could be just the kick in the pants hip-hop needs.
JamBase | Cool Like Dat
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