“Where I’m From” & “Nickel Bags”
from Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (1993)
“Jettin'” & “Blowing Down”
from Blowout Comb (1994)
The first CD I ever purchased was the Planets’ debut, 1993’s Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space). Shit blew my mind. I just moved from Manila to Denver months back and started gettin into New York hip hop (Wu-Tang!). I’ve already been made acquainted with the G-funk cats before I even arrived, and no doubt I love that shit, but there was something enigmatic with this sound.
Cut to me months later, after my cousin Mike intro’d me to BET’s Rap City, I’m watchin the “Nickel Bags” video with my mouth open. It became the moment that cemented the type of Hip Hop I would seek. The progressive incorporation of Jazz into those beats… it hooked me. From there, I would go on to A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Gangstarr, The Roots, Common… ya’know, everyone and everything. Digable Planets are, technically, the Zippo to the cigerrette that became the music phase chapter of my life (fuck, I need to quit). So there I go, to the Virgin Megastore in LoDo where I meet a gentleman named Lakhid, who proceeds to school me on East Coast Funk. The 30 minute science class ended with me pickin up the debut album only to come back four months later for the second (and final) album.
For four months I was stuck on that album. Those fuckin horns, I swear to Christ, they were all over the thing. The album was just short of amazing. It was nothing like I was used to: the fluid interplay between the three rappers, funk guitars in all tempos, flutes, walking bass lines, to this day if it wasn’t for the internet, I really couldn’t be able to tell you where the samples ended and the live instruments began. If Lakhid (who later became a good friend) came up to me now and told me in his low, raspy voice: “… ain’t none of that shit live, kid. Homey spliced all that up on a memory drive.”, beyond all knowledge of fact, I’d believe it. Cause to an amateur like me at that exact time, fuck-all could explain the presence of that much complex musicality in a hip hop album, let alone most albums.
Being an immigrant always makes you nostalgic, and songs about nostalgia always get me. And so easily did I clung to “Where I’m From” so early on, that bass line cradling the guitars and vocals in equal measure. The playfulness of “Nickel Bags” and it’s resulting low-down cool reminding you how easy they can make it all sound.
As album progressions go, 1994’s Blowout Comb is very reflective of the changes and environment the crew went into. Originally a Philly group, Blowout was thier Brooklyn album. And goddammit, it sounds like they lived there all their lives. And with some of New York’s finest, Ish (Butterfly), Mecca (Ladybug) and C-Know (Doodlebug) double-downed on the funk and somehow got the grooves heavier. The Afrocentricism of the lyrics got meatier, but somehow managed to not be too serious. One thing noticeable on this effort is the rhyme delivery: the content is there but the style is thicker. If the Funk meter got turned up then the rapping got twerked up.
And herein lies my two favorite Digable Planets cuts, “Jettin'” & “Blowing Down”, both sonically textured in every facet and both just straight-up-&-down funked out grooves. If there were only two songs from thier short catalog you can listen to, I vote for these nuggets. The attitudes different between the two, “Jettin'” is day and “Blowing Down” is night, they still cycle in the same 24-hour period. And both songs being just so gangster, but not Glock-9-ridin-a-Bentley gangsta… think more like a nickel-plated-.38-rollin-in-a-Lincoln kinda gangster. If these two songs wore leather jackets, it’ll have butterfly lapels.
God, I wish I had a Lincoln Continental.