Retro Reminiscence: Digable Planets Old Skool Kool

Digable Planets are a class act old school hip hop group whose Rebirth of Slick burnt up the airwaves on the charts and music TV back in the early 90s.

Here’s a performance of the funky syncopated groove track 9th Wonder (Blackitolism) live on some show starring Jon Stewart in 1994. Something about Ladybug’s live delivery of her memorable phrase-turns “ninety three million miles above these devils… A alike, B alike…” makes them snap for me and really brings home the street poetics in a way the recorded version doesn’t… but that’s just me… And doesn’t Jon Stewart look like a spry young lad?

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5 hip hop tracks that could appear on a downbeat compilation

These tracks are all from the subgenre of jazz rap and my reason for presenting them is to show that stylistically they’re not far removed from downbeat/chillout territory. In theory, you could segue to a Cafe Del Mar or Kruder & Dorfmeister compilation track from one of these songs without the casual listener batting an eyelid.

If you’re not into hip hop but you can appreciate an Ibiza-esque chillout groove, try alternating between a few downbeat/chillout/trip-hop cuts and the following songs. For starters, they’re not gangsta rap or hip pop. Secondly, they have the same chilled down groove that you find in downbeat (albeit not so much on the ambient/house side of the genre), and third, they contain musical elements of jazz that elevate them above the atonal loops prevalent in other hip hop genres. Worth giving them a go?


A Tribe Called Quest – Jazz (We Got)

ATCQ were noted for their contribution to hip hop – specifically by openly adopting jazz grooves into their sound and popularizing jazz rap along with Gang Starr and Native Tongue Posse mates De La Soul in the late 80s/early 90s.

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Download the Guitar Pro 5 file (.gp5) of a Musicalis cover of “Jazz (We’ve Got)” (including drums and bass) from here.


Black Star – Respiration

From the unstoppable combination of Mos Def and Talib Kweli this track also features Mos Def’s fellow rapper/actor, Common. With a chill New York groove and three legends on the cut you can’t go wrong xD. Def’s lyrical poeticism shines through as always:

“…this ain’t no time where the usual is suitable
Tonight alive, let’s describe the inscrutable
The indisputable, we New York, the narcotic
Strength in metal and fiber optics
where mercenaries is paid to trade hot stock tips
for profits, thirsty criminals take pockets…”

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Digable Planets – Blackitolism (9th Wonder)

This song sports a smooth, jazzy groove with a BIG beat that delays the second snare to add some rhythmic colour – a 90s classic.

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Download the Guitar Pro 5 file (.gp5) of a Musicalis cover of “Blackitolism (9th Wonder)” (including drums and bass) from here.


Guru – Lost Souls

As the lyrical half of the mighty Gang Starr, Guru helped to pioneer the New York City Hip Hop sound and is one of the forerunners of the hip hop / jazz crossover.

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Nieve and Cook – Chronic Intoxication

From his album “Away With Words” released this year, newcomer Nieve busts a silky jazz jam. He sounds young and… well… naieve, but the groove is tasty and he flows well on it.

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