It has been 21 years since Digable Planets—the distinctive ’90s jazz-rap trio—broke up after releasing two critically acclaimed studio albums and winning a Grammy for “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat).” Now Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, Mary Ann “Ladybug Mecca” Viera and Craig “Doodlebug” Irving are enjoying another rebirth on their summer reunion tour, which included a July 1 gig at ESSENCE Festival.
So what was the reason behind the breakup of a group that seemed way too chill to have any drama? “We had collective reasons and we all had personal reasons that may not have been necessarily shared, nor should they have been,” says Butterfly. “It’s no different than any other partnerships, relationships—they go through ups and downs. But I always missed this configuration of creativity and the results that happened from it.”
As for their decision to reunite, Butterfly explains, “There wasn’t a catalyst, one thing that happened and we said, ‘Oh, we’re going to get back together.’ When the opportunity presented itself with some actual dates and actual offers, I think that’s what pushed the snowball over the hill and started getting it rolling.”
Adds Ladybug Mecca: “We haven’t stopped loving the magic that we have together. Right now we’re just in the moment, in the present, enjoying each day as it comes."
Butterfly, however, thinks the tour could lead to the threesome recording some new music together. “The desire to do stuff is there, I think, but we have to be around each other more to get that cohesiveness that would even come close to what we had before,” he says. “I’m looking forward to just building the relationship, the camaraderie, the familiarity back up to where we can maybe get back and do some new music. If we rock for a couple of months, I feel like we’ll build a muscle and be able to flex it in the studio.”
But how would the trio do in today’s hip-hop landscape? “I’m not really sure where we fit in, but you just got to get in where you fit in,” says Doodlebug. “The new generation is what it is, like we were when we were young. The older cats looked at us a certain way because they felt a certain tradition, so I don’t want to put too many judgments on the new generation. I don’t like a lot of [today’s hip-hop] personally, but there’s some good stuff out there too.”
Still, their original sound has a timeless quality, and the old songs flow just as smoothly as they did back in the day. “We come from an era where people were unique and had their own voice and their own everything,” says Ladybug Mecca. “That was fly, that was dope. Our sound was unique to who we are.”