Digable Planets’ Unsung Episode Reveals Why A Great Group Only Made 2 Albums (Video)
The Digable Planets’ story is told in an episode of Unsung. The two-men-and-a-lady trio from three different cities would stretch to achieve Grammy success and respect within the Hip-Hop community at the same time. However, the collective of Seattle, Washington’s Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, Silver Spring, Maryland’s Mariana “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira, and Philadelphia Pennsylvania’s Craig “Doodlebug” Irving only released two albums: 1993’s Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) and 1994’s Blowout Comb follow-up. They pulled the plug in 1995.
Having been back on the road for 13 years, the Planets are in orbit but not tampering with a two-for-two catalog. Save for a live album compilation, the trio has not added to its discography.
In Unsung, the story of forming the unlikely clique is rehashed. Ish recalls receiving a saxophone from his father in the fifth grade. Mecca explains her Afro-Brazilian heritage and political interests as a child. She describes Queen Latifah’s influence on her rhyming. Cee Knowledge, as Doodlebug is now known, began as a DJ before moving in front of the turntables.
The crew came together on the East Coast, first as Cee and Ish. Mecca, who was around but reportedly shy about her voice, would show off her rhyme skills, taking on the third spot. They recorded a demo that included breakout hit “Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” and quickly attracted label interest, notably from former Motown Records exec Ruben Rodriguez’s Pendulum imprint.
Ish produced, though later credits were given to the group. The now-Shabazz Palaces explains how he was the conduit between the Planets, their management and the label. Ahead of their debut, the collective took on insect-inspired names. Mecca explains it was derived from “insects working together for greater good.”
Unsung features commentary from Brand Nubian’s Lord Jamar, Bahamadia, Cheo Hodari Coker, and others. They credit Digable for cultivating the live band sound both in studio and on the road. Ish’s production and the group’s conscious lyrics are celebrated. The documentary remembers the name-change ahead of the second LP.
After decreasing chart positions of singles, less mainstream fanfare, and tensions between a heavy-handed label and each other, the group pulled the plug in ’95. Pendulum’s founder even set up a dinner to try to get the act back in the studio. Cee Knowledge (who had begun a side project with other musicians) describes the tensions that felt like it would not happen. Mecca’s parents both passed away, just weeks apart.
Ish cared for his mom in Seattle, who also passed away. Cee aimed to be a better father to his son, and another child. Each member of the group describes focusing on family and working on themselves. Today, Digable Planets is back on the road making dope music for the universe.