Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 21: Digable Planets, "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)"

Artist: Digable Planets
Song: "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)"
Album: Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
Year: 1993

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If there is one thing that time has proven, it is the fact that even during times when one form of music completely dominates the ears of the general public, truly great songs still manage to find a way through. This has perhaps never been as obvious than during the early 1990's, when "grunge" and "gangsta" rap music ruled the airwaves. It was during this period that an entirely new sound began to emerge, and while many are quite familiar with the concept of "alternative rock," most do not realize that there was a similar movement of "alternative rap." With groups like P.M. Dawn, digital underground, and countless other artists who demanded more from the rap genre, a new movement of rappers with extremely unique approaches began to take shape. During this time, there was perhaps no other group that so perfectly defined this more conscious, more creative brand of hip-op than Digable Planets, and their debut single, "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)," remains one of the most important rap songs to this day. Sounding like nothing else did at the time, the song quickly found crossover success and without question, the success of the song and album paved the way for nearly every later performer of the so-called "conscious" hip-hop movement. From the brilliant music to the unparalleled rapping, there are few songs in history that are as uniquely wonderful as Digable Planets' 1993 hit, "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)."

While creative uses of sampling was one of the foundations of the entire hip-hop genre, Digable Planets created musical structures like had never before been heard. Recording, producing, and mixing the album entirely on their own, the group was able to fully realize their entire musical vision, and there is no question that this isolation of sorts was one of the keys behind the groups' completely unique sound. Handling nearly all of the production and the man responsible for the music found throughout the album was Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler. On "Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)," Butler creates a sonic mood the likes of which had never been heard. Clearly playing off of the idea of "cool" in jazz, Butler crafts an amazingly hip and smooth sound, based off of only three simple samples. Fusing together parts of "Stretchin" by, James Williams, "Foodstamps" by, 24 Carat Black, and "On The Subway" by, Last Poets, Digable Planets manage to recreate the "cool" vibe of the jazz era, yet doing so with an unquestionably modern twist. This more melodic approach was a far cry from the heavy bass, P-Funk based sounds that were dominating at the time, yet the pop appeal was undeniable, as "Rebith Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" served as a refreshing alternative to the countless "clones" that were beginning to overrun the landscape of music. With its smooth, funky bassline and unforgettable horn hook, the song remains one of the most iconic of the era, and it is still instantly recognizable to this day.

While the music on the backing track is nothing short of iconic, the rhymes of each emcee is equally fantastic, and the song features a number of "classic" hip-hop lines. Each of Digable Planets' three members take a verse on "Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)," and the high level of lyrical mastery proves to run through each emcee. Not needing to drop any unnecessary curse words, the lyrical prowess of these three emcees was far beyond that of any of their peers at the time, and the number of amazing images and references found throughout the song is nearly immeasurable. Furthermore, the presence of Mary Ann "Ladybug" Vieira on the track marks a major moment for female emcees, as one can make the case that it is her verse that shines brightest. The group makes no attempt to hide their influences, as they name drop everyone from Miles Davis to the film Cleopatra Jones, furthering the jazzy-funk sound and mood of the song. With each group member bringing a similarly clear and straightforward rhyming style, each lyric is packed with brilliant style, and with likes like "...we be to rap what key be to lock..." and the absolutely iconic reference to the aforementioned film, there was simply nothing else previous that sounded quite like "Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)." The fact that the song had so much impact, whilst being far more laid back and toned down than nearly anything else in the hip-hop genre to date, serves as a testament to the true greatness of the song, as well as the extraordinary effort in writing and rhyming of each of the groups' members.

Serving as a massive influence on everyone from The Fugees to Jurassic 5 to nearly every rap group that followed, Digable Planets were one of the most uniquely important groups to emerge from the eclectic musical scene of the early 1990's. Bringing a rapping style and musical approach like nothing else before it, their debut album, Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space), offered an alternative to the overly-aggressive, increasingly unoriginal "gangsta rap" that was dominating the music scene at the time. The fact that the group created one of the most original and important albums in history without any "major label" help makes the record even more impressive, and one simply cannot overstate the impact that the album had across nearly every musical genre. Presenting a style of hip-hop that was far more intelligent and creative than the profanity-laden "gangsta" style, Digable Planets proved that brilliant lyrics could be just as enjoyable and memorable as any other. Backed by one of the smoothest and most unforgettable musical creations, "Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" remains one of the most iconic songs of the decade, and though others would try, no other song ever reached a similar level of "cool" within the hip-hop genre. Each of the three emcees brings an absolutely phenomenal verse to the song, and this helps to keep the rhymes fresh, whilst similarly giving a wonderful change to the sound of the song. Truth be told, "Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" is about as perfect a hip-hop song as has ever been recorded, and it is much the reason that the song remains just as enjoyable and original more than fifteen years after it first appeared on the music scene.


corey c. said...

A song so perfect that it makes me want to laugh, cry, dance and chill. Unfortunately, vh1 thought that 50 cent had two better songs in there top 100 hip hop countdown. Shame. I don't think Curtis could even make it in my top100.

Cialis Online said...

It is an excellent song, I downloaded almost the same day that I listened on the radio.

DJSureal said...

It was "Stretching" by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers not James Williams. Also, in 1993, Gangsta Rap wasn't necessarily all over the airwaves. Tribe, De La and the Pharcyde got heavy rotation on the radio.