Never Heard of 'Em

Never Heard of 'Em: Our City Hall Reporter Listens to Digable Planets for the First Time

Anna Minard, our city hall reporter, claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we're forcing her to listen to all the records that music nerds consider important.


Blowout Comb


Somehow the most important first thing about Digable Planets is that name. These are not planets that should be dug. Nor are they planets doing digging. They haven't necessarily been dug. "Here are some planets," say these people. "It is possible to dig them. They could, hypothetically, be dug. We're leaving that up to you." The planets are digable. They don't go so far as to say Dug Planets or Dig These Planets or You Are So Going to Dig These Amazing Planets. (That's the Buzzfeed version of the band name. First album: Track Seven Will Blow Your Mind.) Quietly, chilled-out, you can dig these if you so choose.

And dig them I do. That mood, that chill, permeates every second of this album. It's lyrically impressive, but the overall theme is so anti-hyperactive. The low tones, horn and piano lines, and calm beats burrow into your brain, pulsing like cartoon sound waves.

There's a female voice in here, and though I love nothing more than female swagger, she's as chill as the dudes. Her low-key but quick-tongued slickness is hypnotic. It's hiphop, but, just as the group's name refers to planets, the sound is coming from somewhere outside the atmosphere of what "hiphop" often means; it's built from similar but different elements; the smoothness of the vocal style is something totally un-staccato and un-loud, honey-covered hiphop. The rhymes are my favorite kind—casual but constructed, slant rhymes, rhymes in the middle of a line instead of the end.

I like this a lot—but is it possible to not like this? It doesn't offend. It doesn't sneer. It doesn't put itself on a pedestal. It couldn't piss you off. It's the smoothest of smooth, a spare, straightforward presentation of woven sound. How could you hate it? What part of it would grate on your ears? I don't think my grandma could hate this.

I wanted to know more, so I looked them up on the internet. Turns out this 1990s group is the starting place for Seattle's own Ishmael Butler, now of Shabazz Palaces. (Sorry for not knowing that, y'all.) The three of them (how can there only be three of them?) named themselves after insects—Butterfly, Doodlebug, and Ladybug Mecca. I have no idea why.

Where should you listen to this? Literally anywhere, anytime. This is something different from music; it's like a physical thing. Like a magic fabric, a sweater that's cool in summer and warm in winter. It's like it exists and your presence or appreciation doesn't necessarily matter, doesn't change anything. It's like this album is playing constantly in another universe, and you can pull back the veil and visit it, and when you leave, it barely notices. It just keeps being, keeps playing.

I give this a "pull back the veil" out of 10. recommended


Comments (9) RSS

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bearseatbeats 1
I don't know if it is possible to hate this record. My dad likes jazz but hates hip hop (because he doesn't know a damn thing about it), but I played this for him once and he didn't hate it. Faint praise, I know, but not only is it possible to not hate this, it's possible to really like it too, as I do. So smooth.
Posted by bearseatbeats on August 5, 2014 at 10:19 PM · Report this
I have always been a fan of DP, and I'm happy that you've found and connected with "Blowout Comb", but I think you should listen to the lyrics again - hard. The theme of this album was black nationalism and revolution (much in the spirit of the Black Power movement of the 1970's). A few choice lyrics:

"In the year of '89 I stole back my black mind..." Doodlebug on "Dial 7"
"One love, gun love, come free the land with us. Pigs they can not shoot this plush and creamy lavishness" - Buttafly on "Jettin"
"Now you see that I'm 68 inches above sea level. 93 million miles above these devils." - Mecca on "9th Wonder"

The album liner was actually a mock black revolutionary newspaper with faux articles discussing revolution.

For some people (not me personally), that's very offensive. To ask "is it not possible to like this?" and to say Blowout Comb "couldn't piss you off" means you may have left some of album's meaning on the table.

I bring this up not to condemn this album, but to praise it. It has a stout, passionate revolutionary message, but it's wrapped in a chill, jazzy velvet glove. That's really part of Digable Planets' magic. This album was DP at the height of their powers.
Please listen to this album again so you can enjoy it in its fullness.
Posted by ForCorners on August 6, 2014 at 4:10 AM · Report this
pg13 3
...well, I like their first album better.
Posted by pg13 on August 10, 2014 at 4:19 PM · Report this
Fnarf 4
My favorite thing about this record is how the samples are used in a way that drastically improves them -- the Bob James bit on "Jettin'" for instance. Bob James is pretty cheesy stuff, really, and the sample they use is pedestrian, but has a core of interest in it, that the Planets turned into something unmistakably catchy. Listen to the two side by side at if you don't believe me. In the right hands, sampled record snippets can turn into a whole new kind of magic.
Posted by Fnarf on August 10, 2014 at 4:47 PM · Report this
@4. Correct as usual. Another instance -…
Posted by derkle on August 10, 2014 at 5:51 PM · Report this
"9th wonder" is among the my top five all time hip hop tracks. everything about that song is confident and natural.

the first album was good, but didn't age as well because in retrospect, what they relied most upon felt gimmicky. blowout comb blew out all the beatnik cliches and upped the ante on beats and lyrics, while keeping the style and flow smooth but restrained. again: confident.
Posted by deepconcentration on August 10, 2014 at 6:39 PM · Report this
I once read about a young child in Tibet. He was raised in a buddhist monastery hidden in a system of caves high in the mountains. Far from civilization he was to possess a pure, perfect mind, cultivated only by the teachings of the other monks, their ancient books, and the view of the stars and icy peaks out of the window of his simple dormitory. And then a jet airplane flew past and the game was up.

Anna, was that you?
Posted by tabski on August 10, 2014 at 10:59 PM · Report this
@ #2 is spot on. The first album was much more of a party rocker, if still very intelligent. This album is straight up revolutionary.
Posted by IrieOutdoors on August 12, 2014 at 12:12 PM · Report this
ALWAYS Clear Your Cache!!! 9
When hip hop wasn't..."mainstream" this quality, depth and positivity was standard.

I recommend Ladybug's solo effort too. There was a time when there were a variety of female emcees who didn't have to play the "ride or die" role.
Posted by ALWAYS Clear Your Cache!!! on August 13, 2014 at 9:54 AM · Report this

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