Digable Planets :: 06.22.05 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA

Digable Planets by Daniela Federici
I am a white girl who loves good hip-hop, and by "good," I mean the variety of rap that is not about "bitches," "thongs," "rims," "glocks," and "crack." Maybe it's because I have no cultural association with any of those things, but no matter how compelling the beat is, I can't fully get into songs with lyrics like "Your cousin looks mad ready to let the clips spray / Out of a week I stay in a lab for six days" (from Nelly's "Never Let 'em C U Sweat"). Hip-hop is supposed to be about wherever you are from, and I'm just not from that place. For me, when the rhymes are thoughtful, substantive, and authentic, it's sweet soothing poetry recited over thick, commanding beats. It becomes a genuine transcendent art form of which I can't get enough. Of all the hip-hop shows I have seen in the last five years, there was no group more authentic, more compelling, and more rockin' than Digable Planets at The Independent, June 22nd.

It was difficult to keep my expectations in check that night, but when I entered, the deeply funky and soulful sounds of the Crown City Rockers took my mind off of them for at least forty-five minutes. A Bay Area band, the Crown City Rockers is a rap group in the style of The Roots – hip-hop with a live band. They are extraordinary musicians who blend 70's soul-jazz with funk and modern hip-hop into an innovative, captivating sound. They are viscously tight, boasting a rapid-fire MC whose delivery is phenomenal. The whole band is electric. As stated on, "Barring an unexpected break-up or devastating earthquake, there is absolutely no question that the Crown City Rockers will blow up on a national level." Just like the band that was to follow them, the Rockers illustrated how good live hip-hop can be when done right.

It's been ten years since Digable Planets quietly disbanded because they "just got tired of hanging out together." Since then, their inimitable style of ultra-cool rhymes over equally cool jazz had all but disappeared. When they walked on-stage to the opening sounds of "The May 4th Movement," it was an immediate intoxicating time warp back to 1993. I drank it in like Cristal. The trio was backed alternately with a live band (including legendary keyboardist and composer with Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson) and a solo DJ, stepping between past and present with facile ease. Butterfly, Doodlebug (Cee Knowledge), and Ladybug Ms. Mecca had a calm but magnetic stage presence and an evident intimate sense of each other's styles. When they moved into "It's Good to be Here," they were a finely tuned collective machine. The crowd erupted, and then the whole thing took off like a rocket launch. Each tune was like an old friend - comforting, invigorating, and energizing. "Where I'm From" brought me back to the NYC suburbs the year I graduated high school and the first time I heard Butterfly say "It's hip, what's hip? When hip is just the norm / Cause Planets pledge allegiance to the funk in all its forms." "Jettin'" made me chuckle at how "the sun sets, you vex, we gets mad funky" had become an anthem of my life. It was endlessly refreshing to see a beautiful female rap star who was actually dressed (and looking most fly I must say in a strapless Puma shirt with matching kicks) and wasn't talking about making Sprite cans disappear in her mouth. If my life could have a soundtrack and a uniform, I would be sporting Pumas and grooving out to live Digable Planets everywhere I went. As "Pacifics" sagely advised, "So get with the rhythms while you getting' with the Planets / Vibe off the jams but don't take them for granted."

I feel so grateful not only to be able to see such legends and innovators of hip-hop but also because they delivered, hundred-fold. Everyone knows the old adage, "you can never go home again," but that is not what DP is trying to do. Though the show was mostly the tunes I revere off of Blowout Comb and Reachin' (A New Refutation Of Time And Space), there were also some new tunes from Ladybug's recently released solo album. In spite of the old songs, the tone still felt fresh, new, and overflowing with potential and possibility. Funk is a powerful force, and that night at the Indy, it was harnessed into an ethereal, ass-shaking experience. The experience proved once more that when music is truly good, it's like church. Let us pray.

Robyn Rubinstein
JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 7/21/05]

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