[🌍] WHAT DIGABLE PLANETS TAUGHT ME ABOUT THE BLACK EXPERIENCE

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    As a kid growing up in the rural Midwest, I didn't have much occasion to interact with people of color, aside from the occasional migrant family working in the nearby factory.
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    Most of my experiences with black people involved sugary sitcom families that, conveniently, looked and acted a lot like me.
    The Cosby family, the Winslows, Willis and Arnoldβ€”I'm lookin' at you.
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    The only exception was in my music collection, which included Thriller, Cyprus Hill, NWA (which was often hidden away from my parents' judging ears), Judgment Night soundtrack, Snoop Dogg/Dr. Dre, Run-DMC, De La Soul, Stand By Me soundtrack, and all the Public Enemy I could find. Plus the guy who played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.
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    I also stumbled onto a quirky group called Digable Planets, a trio of grunge-era beat poets providing history lessons through melodic hip-hop lyrics and retro jazz samples.
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    (And I'm super-stoked that they've reunited and that I'll be seeing them live for the first time next weekend in Chicago at the Pitchfork Music Festival with Li.sters @TQ and @CharCzar.)
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    Their debut album, Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space), was a total space alien to me. It was this perplexing mix of classic jazz moments with beautiful urban poetry and these razor-sharp hip hop beats.
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    And, growing up in a drought of urban culture, it provided a window to understanding this other culture, specifically in the areas of:
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    Black Advocacy/Feminism
    In one of their most poignant tracks, La Femme Fetal, DP paint a striking lyrical and musical picture exploring the plight of young women of color struggling with the current and future implications of unwanted pregnancy. As a white male in a conservative rural community, it was my first glimpse at a counter-proposal to pro-life dogma. Further, the album explores the need for young black people to have a place at the nation's table, a point of view I had assumed was already being supported. πŸ™ˆ
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    Urban Poetry
    The use of poetry in such an unflinching way on this album is something I've yet to see replicated. This, and having the middle name of "Langston," began a lifetime being drawn back to Harlem Renaissance poets of the '30s and '40s like Langston Hughes, writing about being black in an ever-constraining America. Sadly, so much of it is relevant again, as it was in the '90s and decades before. Poetic allusions in this album like "land of the free ... but not me" landed like a lawn jart in my brain.
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    Jazz
    The samples remixed by DP also stirred in me an interest in the jazz greats with such vivid musical imaginations. Within five years of this album, I would find a part-time job playing jazz and blues in the wee-early mornings for a local public radio station. And I wouldn't trade the early wake-ups for anything. (I also worked for a country music station in the 90's, and grew a similar appreciation, but that's another story for another day.)
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    Hip-Hop, Rap, R&B
    This album was one of the first intersections I've known where hip-hop, rap, R&B, AND jazz show up to one gig and are allowed to emote in their own unique ways. Specifically, I can hear a lot of hip-hop elements here for the first time that continue to show up in modern music, as well as jazz sampling which began popping up in the late '90s/2000s.
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    Philosophy
    As the title may have tipped you off to, these cats are trippy and insightful, and this album pulls no punches in exploring personal philosophies and societal structures in America. It was a reaffirmation for me that the people of color in this nation are intelligent, considerate, measured, and empathetic, in addition to being innovative musically.
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    New York City in the '90s
    Reachin' contributed to my obsession with New York City in the '90s. In college, I would travel to NYC as part of a music business class, where I would drop into a legit jazz club, watch The Fugees record in a studio, visit the Troma film headquarters, meet Don King on the street and watch the film Crumb for the first time in a VERY independent film cafe.
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