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Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Album: Beyond the Spectrum: The Creamy Spy Chronicles
Artist: Digable Planets

Many things in the world of pop culture are cyclical. Fashion is like that. Some genius has apparently decided that the clothes in the 80's weren't as bad as we all thought and that neon pink leg warmers should be brought back. While it might not be a great idea for fashion, making the old new again is usually a good thing in hip hop. So it's good to see albums like Digable Planets Beyond The Spectrum: The Creamy Spy Chronicles being released now, and it's also good to hear the Planets have been touring and are possibly working on new material.

The Creamy Spy Chronicles is a collection of hits, remixes, and b-sides from Digable's heyday of 1993-94. This album is being put out by famed Jazz label Blue Note, which makes sense as Digable Planets were one of the most successful purveyors of the Jazz-rap that was as common in the early 90's as references to Jacob The Jeweler are now. The insect-named Planets, Butterfly, Ladybug, and Doodlebug, made a splash in 1993 with their debut album Reachin' (A New Refutation Of Time And Space) and it's big single Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat). That album put them on the map with both hip hop fans and the mainstream, while their second album, Blowout Comb, released the next year, didn't make as much noise commercially but has remained a favorite in hip hop circles.

But how does Digable's early 90's Jazz-rap stand up to the test of time? Surprisingly well actually. I hadn't listened to these songs in ages, but they didn't sound dated to me. This is probably because the production on all the songs is sparse, yet infectious. Nickel Bags, for example, with it's bongos, finger snaps, and flute loop is going to sound good no matter when you hear it. The funky trumpet intro and kicking drums of Dog It are timeless, as is Rebirth of Slick with it's crazy upright bass line, finger snaps and classic horn loop. Lyrically the Planets still sound good as well. Their lyrics are smart, talking about reading Marx and name dropping Mingus' drummer, but it doesn't come off as nerdy. They also share a unique ability to sound laid back as hell but also sound like they're riding each beat perfectly.

So why should you buy this album? The "new" content here consists of a remix for Where I'm From and an Elaine Brown mix of 9th Wonder: Blackitolism, both of which are decent. There are also two b-sides, Dedicated and Three Slim's Dynamite, which are both good if not as classic as the other album favorites. So if you're a huge Digable fan or completest, then that might be reason enough to cop this album. But the main reason to check out this album is simple: it's good. A decade plus later the planets still sound crisp and fresh, and you'd be hard pressed to find any new hip hop that sounds like this. What's more, it sounds like one album; the production and rhyme schemes consistent, so you never get the feeling that you're listening to a greatest hits comp. Pick up this album today for the Jazz-rap fan on your Christmas list, and thank me later.


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