Digable Planets: Return Orbit

Legendary Grammy Award-winning hip-hop trio Digable Planets will celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut album Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) during their first-ever tour stop at the Kalamazoo State Theatre Jan. 25.

Performing the acclaimed record front to back in its entirety, with their live backing band, the group will take longtime fans back to the old school days of early ‘90s rap, while also welcoming a new generation to discover their timeless, forward-thinking vibes. 

Digable Planets is made up of MCs Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, Craig “Doodlebug” Irving, and Mariana “Ladybug Mecca” Vieria. They first formed in Brooklyn in the late ‘80s, before signing with Pendulum Records and releasing Reachin’ in 1993. The album would later go gold, with its lead single, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” crossing over and becoming a pop hit, reaching No. 15 on the Billboard singles chart.

“It wasn’t even actually our first choice to be our first single,” Irving told Revue about the group’s signature hit. “We had another song called ‘Brown Baby Funk,’ that we had, and it was a George Duke sample, and he would not clear it for us, so we couldn’t use it… So when our dreams got crushed, we went back. And then the people at the label started coming around talking about this other song ‘Rebirth of Slick.’ To us, all the songs are our babies, so we felt like, oh, we’re good... I never thought ‘Rebirth of Slick’ was the song that was going to catapult us and take us to this crazy stratosphere that we ultimately got to. It was actually the second or third choice, and then because of technicalities or technical difficulties, it became the first single. And wow, I’m so glad it was.”

“Rebirth of Slick” won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1994, making Digable Planets only the fourth act to receive that award in hip hop history. 

“We were one of the first to win that award,” Irving said. “It’s amazing because at the time you could tell when we were sitting there in the crowd, there was not very many hip hop artists sitting there. I mean, there might have been a couple others, but for the most part, it was a lot of movie stars and rock ‘n’ roll artists, R&B artists, stuff like that. It was a surreal night.”

Showcasing the group’s influential fusion of hip hop and jazz, Reachin’ established Digable Planets as pioneers of what would later be called alternative hip hop, and serve as inspiration for genre-defying artists for decades to come.

“Hip hop was a melting pot of all that stuff,” Irving said. “You would hear a breakbeat by a DJ and you would not even know that was a jazz artist break that he was using, because the DJ found that one part in the song that had that beat that made the B-Boys get up and start doing their moves. But then as I dug deeper into it and started falling deeper into that rabbit hole, I started getting names, started being attached to the sounds.”

With the group bringing a socially conscious message to their music, Digable Planets followed up their surprise early success with their second album, 1994’s Blowout Comb. Darker and more explicitly political, the record did not sell as well, but in the years since has emerged as an iconic and important release in hip hop’s now 50-year history in American music. 

“I know that prior to us, there were groups like The Native Tongues and Heavy D and the Boyz that inspired us and helped us,” Irving said. “De La Soul, like people that made us feel like it’s OK to be you. You don’t have to be this person. You could just be you. And people will accept you for being you. I’m hoping that in our way, and in our interpretation of that mantra, that we inspire some other groups that came after us. I’m hoping that we did.”

Digable Planets parted ways over creative differences in 1995 and didn’t reunite until 2005, as the three members pursued numerous personal solo projects over the years. In 2017 they released a live album, and have continued touring, playing to fans young and old all across the world. 

“When you go to the shows, you sometimes see whole families coming,” Irving said. “And after the show, you go out and talk to them, and they’re like ‘Yo, I grew up on your music and I played your music for my kids growing up, and now they’re big fans of it.’ And you see kids who, you know for a fact they weren’t around when the song came out, but for some reason, like we did when we listened to people who were much older than us, and it wasn’t really about the age. It’s just about the music and the feeling that you got when you listen to that music. So I was highly inspired and motivated to see these younger cats doing the same thing, digging in the crates and finding music that was before their time, but it still resonated with them.”

Digable Planets
Reachin’ 30th Anniversary Tour
Kalamazoo State Theatre, 404 S. Burdick, Kalamazoo
Jan. 25, 7 p.m. (doors), 8 p.m. (show), $30-55
Kazoostate.com, officialdigableplanets.com