Digable Planets Reachin’ Reissue out on Light in the Attic.
By Dr. Tim Craig
In 1993, the cool jazz-infused hip-hop of Digable Planets smoothed its way to a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance with the single “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” beating out other hip-hop staples like Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Membrane,” Naughty By Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray,” and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Nuthin’ by a ‘G’ Thang.”
Now, 25 years later, Light in the Attic has reissued the group’s debut album, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) – featuring the Grammy-winning song — on vinyl, marking the first time the album has been available on vinyl since its initial release.
The album was released amid the political turmoil that fueled the hip-hop of its day and offered a head-turning alternative with its jazz samples and dense, literature-infused lyrics. The give-and-take interplay between Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, Craig “Doodlebug” Irving, and Mary-Ann “Lady Mecca” Viera was more a laid-back socially aware conversation at a cocktail party than the gangsta-influenced shouting heard from a club on Friday night.
Listening to the reissue, that head-turning is still in effect. Listening to the “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” with its sample of Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers’ “Stretching” (1978) sounds just as otherworldly and head nod-inducing as always and the album’s generous and perfect loops of jazz give the album a timeless quality. The rest of the album maintains the vibe as well, notably “Nickel Bags,” “Where I’m From” and “It’s Good to Be Here.”
While hip-hop listeners are used to the low-key delivery and musical juxtapositions of someone like Kendrick Lamar, a quick listen to Reachin’ still produces the timeless vitality that jazz induces, with a pinch of the throwback nostalgia of old school rap. That’s not to say that this album lives in the past – it’s to say that timelessness will always garner a noticeable reaction worthy of a listen.