This was the coolest song I ever heard to this point in my life when it tiptoed up to me and my MTV near the end of 1992. I was in a pretty unusual, somewhat brief country music phase around that time. I grew up around so much music. The moment I heard a whisper of upright bass, those crisp finger-snaps, a beat that kicked in like the crack of a knuckle, and the bounce as the music crept skillfully towards brass and strings, I knew I was hearing something really special.
Those lyrics rolled off my tongue constantly as the holidays and a new year of more awkward teenage life approached. The mellow ease of the rhymes that recalled life, exploring, music, experimenting, going to shows… it all felt inspiring, real, and more like poetry than a lot of music I had heard back then.
“We be to rap what key be to lock” is one of many lines delivered so straightforward and confidently by Digable Planets. It’s one I can’t seem to forget! Hip-hop was changing up a bit with groups like De La Soul and Arrested Development (to name a few) also showing that lighter fare using homespun stories, humor, and mindfulness wasn’t just novelty, but conscientious and relevant in its own right.
I love that even years later I can hear this song and find new layers I had not yet uncovered. Now I understand and recognize certain samples used in “Rebirth of Slick” from jazz artists like Art Blakey. Girl Talk sampled this Digable Planets song but that’s not too strange because he samples everyone. I just love the alternating rhymes by different members of the group, the valuable perspectives from all the musicians in the mix.
The video always had me so infatuated with the wide array of races of people in the same room together, digging that sound. They seemed to want to dig deeper and coexist in equality on the same planet upon which we are all rotating.
(Song recommendation by k weber)