The February 16 Digable Planets show at the Lodge Room in Highland Park sold out, so the band added another set.
The second set sold out soon after. So they added a third set the following night at the Regent Theater.
“It’s been a blessing,” says Digable Planets emcee Craig “Doodlebug” Irving of the warm reception the venerable Brooklyn hip-hop trio has received since it reformed for a second time in late 2015. The group has previously sold out shows in Los Angeles as well as Washington, D.C. and the Philadelphia area, and they recently toured Australia and New Zealand.
Irving, who also performs as Cee Knowledge, is originally from Philadelphia and relocated to Fresno with his wife and family about two years ago.
“There’s actually a really vibrant little underground scene here,” Irving says. “My wife is from here. I had her living in Philadelphia with me for a long time. But her mom was getting up in age so we moved out here. I was apprehensive at first, but I like it here. The weather is good. Good weed.”
Digable Planets, comprised of Irving, Ishmael “Butter Fly” Butler and Mariana “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira, formed in Brooklyn in 1987 and released the jazz-inflected hip-hop album Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) in 1993. A single off the album, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” garnered the group a Grammy the following year, and the album was certified gold.
A follow up album, Blowout Comb, was released the following year. Featuring a darker sound, it failed to match the success of its predecessor but is considered an alternative hip-hop classic. After Blowout Comb, the group parted ways and later released a compilation album and live album. All three members have released solo material under various projects.
Irving writes and records with his own side effort, The Cosmic Funk Orchestra, and has released two albums, including 2018’s Alien-Aided. He says the CFO is currently on a break, and he is working on more solo material, a mixture of live instrumentation and sampling and jazz, Brazilian sounds, rock & roll and straight hip-hop.
“I haven’t decided on a title,” he says. “I’m down to two titles, and once I figure that out, I’m going to finish up with the mixing and have it out sometime by the end of this year.
During their reunion shows, Digable Planets have primarily stuck to tracks from their two LPs. The group has always used a live band on stage, not unheard of in hip-hop, but not exactly the normal live set up either. (They also have a DJ.) Irving says the live instrumentation helps keep the songs fresh for repeated performances.
“None of the life versions really sound like the album versions, but you feel it when you hear it,” he says. “You get bored doing the same stuff over and over again, but when you have live musicians at your disposal, we kind of freak it. Every night is a different show. It might be the same songs, but it’s always a different show.”
Most of the group and backing band have families now, so Irving says touring is scheduled around those responsibilities that weren’t there in the ’90s. Irving is OK with that.
“In my 20s, I didn’t have to think about shit,” he says. “I just did it. I was single. I could do whatever I wanted. I had no kids. Now I’ve got other considerations to think of. It’s not that I can’t, I just don’t want to stay away from home for more than two or three weeks at a time.”
Irving says that he’s been surprised by the diversity in the crowds at the shows including new fans who obviously weren’t even born when Reachin’ or Blowout Comb dropped in the ’90s.
“I see people coming to our show who bring their kids,” he says. “They say they’ve played the music for their kids their whole lives and their kids wanted to meet us. … It touches me to know our music was able to reach that many people and so many generations. It’s crazy.”
As for new material? Irving says it’s a possibility. The three are currently in talks with producers Ali Shaheed Muhammad — of A Tribe Called Quest — Adrian Younge to possibly produce some new Digable Planets tracks. So anything is possible at this point.
“When we get (to L.A.), they have some studio time set up,” Irving says. “We are going to hang out in the studio and start creating some songs.”
Digable Planets perform at the Regent Theater, 448 S. Main Street, on Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. The show is all ages and tickets cost $40 and are available at spacelandpresents.com. Doors open at 5 p.m.
JOHN BEAR FEBRUARY 13, 2020