When The News & Observer spoke to Ishmael Butler, a member of the veteran hip-hop group Digable Planets, it was right after a very volatile week in America. The shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as the mass shooting of police in Dallas, had just happened.
When asked if these events would be something the group – bringing their tour to Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro Sunday – would address at shows, Butler says it all depends on how real the show gets.
“I mean, you gotta face it – you know, to face reality at all times,” says Butler, 47, calling from his Seattle homebase. “I don’t know. You go about the show, but you go about your emotions as well. And if something comes up where you want to speak on something or make a point, then I’m sure it will happen. Because we are dealing with it, you know. So, you gotta deal with that in a real way, especially when it comes up.”
Back in the early ’90s, Digable Planets rose to prominence because they were a hip-hop group who didn’t mind getting racially and socially conscious on the mike. The group, which consists of MCs Butler (aka “Butterfly” or “Ish”), Mary Ann “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira and Craig “Doodlebug” Irving, won over hip-hop and mainstream audiences with their jazz-rap grooves, most exemplified in their Grammy-winning crossover hit “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat).”
But after the lukewarm success of their second album, 1994’s underappreciated “Blowout Comb” (Durham hip-hop producer 9th Wonder named himself after one of the album’s songs), the Planets parted ways. While they’ve worked on other projects these past two decades (alt-rap fans may know of Butler’s work as the frontman for experimental hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces), they have come together on occasion. They did reunite for a tour in 2005; a compilation album, “Beyond the Spectrum: The Creamy Spy Chronicles,” was released shortly after.
People still want to see us, man. So, that’s what really got us back together.
But even though Butler has said in the past that Digable Planets was probably done as a group (after a canceled Seattle show in 2012, Butler told the Seattle Times, “I think it’s the end”), here they are back together again. “For some reason, at this time, things seemed right,” explains Butler. “But it was mostly based on the fortunes that we have, because people still want to see us, man. So, that’s what really got us back together.”
Indeed, Butler has found that audiences still want them to perform the music they created so long ago.
“Well, I mean, the music exists,” he says. “So, aside from individuals and whatever were thinking about or going through, the music in existence creates opportunity for shows people wanna see. They wanna see what’s going on with you. So, we never really had problems with each other. So, when opportunities arise, we kind of weigh them out and see how we feel and, then, make a decision on that.”
Butler says that new music from Digable Planets could very well be coming soon, with the trio once again dropping heady, relevant verses and jazzy beats during these tense times.
“It’s been going really well with the Digable stuff – you know, getting back into the groove and getting to hang around each other and get that feeling back, but also adding some little updates and some revamping of some of the older stuff,” he says. “So, this has been real exciting, man, to get in there and work it out with them guys and see what we got now.”
Who: Digable Planets, with Camp Lo
When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro
Details: 919-967-9053 or catscradle.com