On Friday, August 19, Brooklyn Bowl will (fittingly) play host to the original borough’s own Digable Planets, who have reunited to tour together for the first time since 2005. Despite releasing just two (classic albums)—1993’s Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) and 1994’s Blowout Comb—the group left an indelible mark on the golden era of hip-hop, with its unique brand of jazz- and funk-layered hip-hop.
Digable’s performance will be backed by a full live band, in lieu of the standard DJ setup of many hip-hop acts. Member Ladybug Mecca spoke to the Weekly about the tour and the band’s legacy.
How have the shows been so far? We’re going to these little places where I don’t expect anyone to show up, and the crowd is just dancing and having a good time. It makes the energy in the room so electric. I’m just walking away from every show blown away.
You have a band that plays with you on tour? Yeah, they’re great guys. When we were out in the early 2000s, the Turner brothers [Thaddeus and Gerald] were with us back then. Then we have [drummer] Conrad [Real], we call him “Superman”—and if you ever see us perform, you’ll understand why (laughs). He’s a younger kid, and he’s just incredible. Darrius [Willrich] is on keys; he’s amazing. And then we have Tendai [Maraire] from Ish’s [aka Butterfly’s] group, Shabazz Palaces. It’s working out really well.
What does it take to fall back into the groove to perform as Digable Planets after being broken up for so long? It’s not complex or complicated at all. It’s just very natural and smooth. It’s not even something we think about. We did it for quite a long time, and we were around each other like that for a lot of the ’90s. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve matured. It’s different; it’s better. No one is being disrespectful; no one ever has. It’s always been a family vibe, no matter what band we have. Nothing’s changed.
What did it take to start this conversation to get everyone back together for this tour? It was about just the right timing. The timing was right for all of us in our separate, individual lives.
It doesn’t seem like Digable Planets left a lot of unreleased music out there. There’s “Three Slim’s Dynamite” on the Beyond the Spectrum greatest-hits record, and “Little Renee” from the Coneheads soundtrack. Was more left on the cutting-room floot? From Reachin’ there’s this one song called “Brown Baby’s Funk” that we actually wanted to be the first single. That never saw the light of day. It’s great. I don’t know if anyone has it.
There’s nothing else floating around. We started a few things, pre-production wise, but nothing that we saw to the end and just didn’t use. Back then, studio time was extremely expensive, so when we went in, we went in to work and get it done. We just focused on concentrating on the album material. Another thing that may have contributed to creating less music—especially during Blowout Comb—is that I was traveling a lot at that time. My mother was about pass away, so if I wasn’t recording vocals, I was on an Amtrak train to spend as much time with her as I could.
Do you look at this reunion tour as just a tour, or is there the possibility that you might record another record together? Well, right now, I’m just focusing on the moment, and taking it day by day, not really looking that far to the future. If we get there, I’m open to it, for sure. Right now, we’re more focused on getting to know each other again and just connecting and seeing what happens from there. Do we talk about it? Yeah we do. But for the most part, we’re stepping lightly and being present.
Let’s talk about E-40 sampling “Rebirth of Slick” for “Yay Area.” “We be to rap what key be to lock.” I was just as surprised as you … and honored, because E-40 is so incredible. I love him as a person. When we did Snoop’s “Candy” video, he was like “We gotta have Ladybug in the video.” But yeah, that was cool. I was happy to hear that.
I have to ask you about something that has been bothering me for a long time. VH1 did this special called One Hit Wonders a while back and named Digable Planets as one. I remember being so pissed; even the people on the show were defending you guys. Did you see that? Yeah, I’ve seen it. I kind of laughed. … I don’t know, everyone has their opinion. I know that we’re not just one-hit wonders, that we actually are creative people to the core. Just because we didn’t have a top hit on whatever chart, it doesn’t define us. We never made music to be on the radio or MTV, we were blown away that “Rebirth of Slick” did what it did. If people gravitated to it, then wow, what a blessing.
Do you ever expect to “Rebirth of Slick” to be that big? It’s still popping up in places, like the film Dope last year. I could have never predicted that. I remember when we first recorded it, I knew it was special. I could feel it in my body. But I didn’t translate that into “This is going to be a hit and last forever.” I just knew how it made me feel.
Tell me your Prince story. This had to been about 1994. I was rolling with Rosie Perez and a couple of other people. We went to this Prince show and after the show, there was a private party. I was kind of playing the wall, because I am not a club person. Then we made eye-contact; he was literally all the way across the room. He stuck his finger out and summoned me to him. (laughs). I’d never been star-struck before or anything, but I don’t know what happened, I just floated over there like, “Oh my God, what just happened?” Then in his deep voice, he’s like “Hey. How are you doing? How are the guys?” It was an out of body experience. It was amazing.
Digable Planets with Camp Lo. August 19, 7 p.m., $25. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.