Sunday, November 06, 2005

Music: Digable Hip-Hop

There are plenty of people out there who have a negative impression of hip-hop music, much of it resulting from the types of hip-hop that gets mainstream attention. I'd have to agree with them regarding mainstream hip-hop since it, well, sucks! The kind of stuff you hear on the radio or on MTV (that is, if they still have music - don't ask me if they do) that is filled with glorification of the "thug life" and "bling-bling", with plenty of sexism and other crap thrown in. That's definitely not the kind of hip-hop I'm into.

There is, however, plenty of great hip-hop out there that is under the radar. There was a period of time (the early '90s) where some of these more quality acts recieved some attention within the mainstream prior to being sent down to the underground while gangsta' rap and other more unfortunate brands of hip-hop took over the mainstream. I had the great fortune last night to go see one of my favorite hip-hop groups perform live, a group that was one of those great early '90s acts that recently reunited and is now on tour: Digable Planets.

Image Hosted by Digable Planets was one of the groups, along with De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest among others, infused the hip-hop scene with jazz and funk, which made for, at least in my opinion, a more satisfying sound as far as hip-hop is concerned. Their lyrics were fresh and intelligent, far far removed from the types of lyrics you'd expect to hear from someone like 50 Cent or whomever else is poisoning young minds these days. Their debut album, titled reachin' (a new refutation of time and space), came out when I was 13 years old and is an absolute classic and must-have album for those who seek to explore the more rewarding reaches of the hip-hop world. I loved their hit song "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)", but unfortunately wasn't exposed to anything of theirs until I got to college. I now have both their releases and I'm eagerly awaiting the release of their new album that will be released sometime next year. I also just found out that Blue Note Records just released a DP album containing b-sides, remixes, and some of their more popular tunes from the two earlier releases. I may have to check that one out as well.

The show last night was sold out and was absolutely electric! It was such a treat to hear their songs that I've been diggin' on for some time now, but performed live right in front of me, especially since I didn't really become a fan until years after the group members went their separate ways and I never expected any sort of reunion. An added bonus was that, just like Matt of Los Amigos De Durutti when he saw them in Boston awhile back, I had a chance to meet Ladybug Mecca (the female MC) after the show and get her autograph! I had the impression that she was feeling a bit old when others were telling her how old they were when Reachin' came out, so I chose not to do the same. She, and the others, still look and sound as great as ever though.

I picked up a copy of a CD by their turntablist DJ Jedi at the show, a compilation of original samples called Blowout Breaks. I'm gonna start off the musical portion of this post with the classic Digable Planets tune that some of y'all might recognize, followed by a track off of the DJ Jedi disc that features two different musical treats. Most of the DJ Jedi track contains a song called "Stretchin'", performed by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, in it's entirety, but then has a short pause before getting into a sample from "Jazzoetry", a song by The Last Poets. The "Jazzoetry" sample was used in the Digable Planets tune titled "La Femme Fatal".

ALBUM: Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (Capitol, 1993)
MP3: Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)

From DJ Jedi's Blowout Breaks:
MP3: Stretchin/Jazzoetry

Next up is one of the songs that I enjoyed the most last night, a song called "What Cool Breezes Do". The song contains a couple of samples from an Eddie Harris number titled "Superflous", both of which were on the DJ Jedi disc as well.

From Reachin':
MP3: What Cool Breezes Do

From DJ Jedi:
MP3: Eddie Harris sample #1
MP3: Eddie Harris sample #2

Like I mentioned earlier, many of the more worthwhile hip-hop artists on the scene today are to be found in the underground. A couple of artists that I dig that may be inchin' their way toward the mainstream a bit though are MF Doom and DJ Danger Mouse. Some may have heard of one of Danger Mouse's projects, the infamous "Grey Album", where he combined the rapping from Jay Z's The Black Album with remixed samples from the Beatles' White Album.

Image Hosted by These two cats recently collaborated together under the name Dangerdoom, and just released an album titled The Mouse and the Mask, an absolutely fabulous album that has themes throughout from the Cartoon Network's late night cartoon series called Adult Swim. I've never watched any of the Adult Swim toons, but I do enjoy the various guest appearances on the album by various characters from the toons. The following two tracks are a couple of my favorites from the album, both containing great samples and production by Danger Mouse and solid rapping from MF Doom.

ALBUM: The Mouse and the Mask (Epitaph / Ada, 2005)
MP3: Sofa King
MP3: Crosshairs

Image Hosted by This album made me want to explore some of MF Doom's other stuff, so I recently acquired an album of his titled MM.. Food?. It's definitely a solid album that further showcases why Doom has such a good reputation among fans of underground hip-hop. For those who are interested, here's a short excerpt from his Wikipedia entry that provides a peek into his personality:
To many rap fans, Dumile is considered to be eccentric, but rhythmic rhyming, word play and lyrical flows make him a favorite of underground hip-hop fans. He is obsessed with old comic books, especially those of the Fantastic Four and their battles with Dr. Doom. Dumile's influences seem to draw heavily from American comic books and classic Japanese science fiction like Godzilla. In his role as King Geedorah, he inhabits a rap circle known as Monsta Island Czars, including rappers named Kong, Rodan, Jet Jaguar, and other rappers named after Japanese movie monsters. The Geedorah name itself is a derivation of Ghidorah.

One of the neat things about the following track from the album is the musical sampling he chose for it. I totally remember it from my youth, and I'm pretty sure it's from the closing credits of Sesame Street. If I'm wrong on this, please let me know. The other mp3 I'm offering up is from one of Doom's many instrumental releases (the Special Herbs series) and is the Sesame Street sample sans rapping.

ALBUM: MM.. Food? (Rhymesayers, 2004)
MP3: Kookies
ALBUM: Special Herbs, Vols. 5 & 6 (Nature Sounds, 2004)
MP3: Horehound

Image Hosted by The kiddie show theme music provides a good seque into the next mp3 I'm providing here. I don't recognize the tune, but it sounds like something that is probably from the '70s. The sample is used in a song by another great hip-hop group called Jurassic 5. The song is called "After School Special" and features some quality lyrical contributions from Chali 2na, a man who is definitely one of my favorite MCs. It is from their most recent release titled Power In Numbers.

Chali 2na was also an original member of the Latin/jazz/hip-hop/pop group Ozomatli. The final song for this post features Chali providing some political commentary that has definite anti-corporate and anti-state messages within it.

ALBUM: Power In Numbers (Interscope, 2002)
MP3: After School Special

ALBUM: Ozomatli (Almo Sounds, 1998)
MP3: Coming War

This is just a small sampling of some of the hip-hop that I've been diggin' recently. There is a lot of other great hip-hop out there that I either know of and haven't featured here or just haven't discovered yet. This little bit that I've brought up here should at least provide people with a taste of hip-hop that won't piss you off, make you gag, or wanna cover the ears of nearby children (if you do that sort of thing).


Blogger DJ durutti said...

Hey Freeman --

"you down with digable planets, youze a hipster, shit."

excellent planets post & review Yo! (and thanks for the shout-out). I'm seein' the dps (again) this Thurs. in Boston -- so glad they're breezin' through town 2x on this reunion tour (and yeah, i'll see about chattin' briefly w/ ladybug again!)

great inclusion of MF Doom & Danger Mouse. and of couse Ozomotli (that's post i've been thinkin' about for some time, but never got around to).


12:28 AM  
Blogger Charles Hueter said...

A few suggestions of my own:

DJ Shadow is the godfather of instrumental hip-hop and should not be overlooked.

The Herbaliser an excellent all-around style that drifts into jazz/downbeat territory.

Kool Keith (aka, Dr. Octagon, among many others) is an MC to look out for. He's been around for some time and his content ranges from the utterly absurd ("half shark/alligator/half-man...half-man half-shark!") to the abstract.

Sage Francis, despite his socialist outlook on some issues, is a hell of a storyteller.

5:33 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

Hey Matt - have fun at the show!

Charles - DJ Shadow is great! I especially like his collaborations with Cut Chemist (Brainfreeze and Product Placement).

I know who Kool Keith is, but I'm afraid I haven't really checked him out. I'll have to do so. Same with Sage Francis.

I've never heard of The Herbaliser, but your description has me interested. Thanks for the suggestions!

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

freeman - thanks for turning me on to these fantastic sounds through your great reviews. As for Blue Note Records, it's been too long since I've checked them out. I first heard about the label via Us3's Cantaloop from their debut album Hand on the Torch, a single that got a fair amount of radio play at the time, and a tape I wore out.


9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I'm big on most of the artists you spotlighted (especially J5 and ANYTHING from Rhymesayers - I'm sure you know about Atmosphere, Slug, Blueprint, and especially Eyedea) and for conscious hip hop you really can't beat Blackalicious (and of course anything Quannum is gold). Your post is actually prompting me to make some purchases. Way to promote fashionable consumption to keep our economy strong and healthy! That's how we'll beat those turrists. :)

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oooh, Herbaliser is great. Right up there with DJ Food and all the great instrumental British hop.

7:12 PM  

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