Interview by Rasheed Rafik Abdellah
Words by Jay Balfour

In hip-hop especially, the perfected sophomore record is a rare phenomenon, but Digable Planets have always been charming outliers. The trio, whose members coalesced in Brooklyn in the early 1990s from Seattle, Philadelphia and Silver Spring, found their stride with Blowout Comb, their second and final album and one of hip-hop’s most unheralded classics.

In many ways, Blowout Comb is about blackness and Brooklyn, and the specific blackness of Brooklyn in the ‘90s. (Even straightforwardly so, with the album carrying song titles like “Black Ego” and “Borough Check.”) Musically, Blowout Comb hinges on the trio’s fascination with jazz, and few hip-hop records have ever accomplished such an intellectual dialogue with the genre.

More than 20 years later, the members of Digable Planets have let their collective classic stand as a swan song, but they were revisiting the material for eager fans when we spoke in Ardmore earlier this month. “My daughter was here tonight,” Doodlebug said. “They love music. They’re very supportive, so it makes it easy on me.”

Despite their organic live reunions, the trio have spent their latter careers carving out individual paths. “We’re just working on different things,” Doodlebug contends. “Everybody in the group is working on different projects. You know, musicians, they all have side projects. At some point, we’ll probably get back together again and do some stuff.”

For his part, Irving is currently prepping the release of a comic book inspired by a mixtape he released in 2013. “It’s called The Epic of the Heaven and Earth Association,” he said of the comic. “My lawyer and I wrote it together. It’s based on the storyline of the [Afronauts vs. Wretchen]. I use a lot of musical metaphors. I use my journey through the music world and growing up in Philly.”

Ladybug Mecca, meanwhile, is eying a new and ambitious musical collaboration with a handful of legends. “BROOKZILL! is a project created by Prince Paul and myself,” she said, referencing the legendary producer of De La Soul fame. Rodrigo Brandao and Don Newkirk, a Brazilian artist and another De La-affiliated producer respectively, round out the lineup. “From first conversations, [it’s] about 10 years in the making,” Mecca said of their upcoming debut album, planned for October release. “It was written and recorded in Brazil, Atlanta, New York, Long Island, Queens. It incorporates a lot of very special musicians and guest appearances. It basically fuses the soul of Brazil with Brooklyn hip-hop. We sample and recreate a lot of Afro-Brazilian, candomblé inspired samples. Really old-school records. And throw a hip-hop beat basically under it. And whichever one stuck, we went with it.” Not unlike Digable’s Blowout Comb, BROOKZILL! relies on the intersection between two great black arts. “Hip-hop and those records from Brazil, the root is the tambor, the drum. So, yeah, it’s all linked by Africa.”

Ish, finally, has mined what is perhaps the most successful of the group’s post-Digable careers as one half of the duo Shabazz Palaces, a Seattle-based project that flirts with avant garde tendencies. “We working on a new one now, finishing it up soon,” Butler said of a forthcoming Palaces record, but shying away from details.” More pressingly, Shabazz was on the verge of opening for Radiohead for a two-night stint in L.A. when we spoke. “The Radiohead thing, when they decided to go on tour, they picked certain groups to open in certain areas. I know they see it as giving some of the groups they like an opportunity …They just invited cats to do it. I been rocking with them for a long time. I got on them at Okay Computer and I listened to that quite a bit. And I stayed with them for a long time leading up to the Yorke solo shit. So, to get the call was big.”


Biggest rule? “The biggest rule would be to stay authentic.”

Biggest regret? “Not being as fiscally responsible when we was first doing our thing.”

Biggest risk? “Being a father.”


Biggest pursuit? “My biggest pursuit, I would say, is evolving as a human being. Growing.”

Biggest passion? “My passion is definitely art, be it photography or music or dance.”

Biggest purpose? “I think my purpose is to be my true self…Just be an example of my most authentic and unique self. Especially in this day and age. It’s not difficult for me but I think for the youth coming up it can be confusing with what’s around them.”


Biggest influence? “I have to say the weather, like the atmosphere. That’s why I leave [Seattle] a lot. But even when I’m there, it sets the tone for everything that I end up wanting to do and create. There’s water, trees, mountains, oceans, lakes, all types of air.”

Biggest intention? I think hip-hop captured my imagination, even though I was into music before. It spoke to all the legacy in my chromosomes. From space to Africa. I seem to relate. I liked the competition of it—the undercurrent of boastfulness, but it was always contained in something stylistic. The pursuit of that. Being under pressure to make that happen is something that I pursue. I like that feeling.”

Biggest insecurity?

“I got a lot to choose from. The biggest one? I feel just, like, winding up, in any sense, alone.”


Visuals by Tim Blackwell