Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Digable Planets

  • Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) [Pendulum, 1993] A
  • Blowout Comb [Pendulum/EMI, 1994] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) [Pendulum, 1993]
The title's about escaping oppression and mortality, fleeing social madness and physical contingency into a spiritual realm of your own, and I say they get away clean. As the Godfather taught and the Planets agree--on "Escape-Ism" and "Escapism (Gettin' Free)," respectively--all music is escapist one way or another, a symbolic/sensual refuge no matter how cerebral, demanding, or hard to take. The test is the alternate reality it creates, and by exploiting the solid tunes and light feel of jazz from Sonny Rollins to Lonnie Liston Smith, these hip hop bohemians come up with a credible one. The airy delicacy of their sampled groove seems magically hyperreal in this pop context, transforming Butterfly and Doodlebug's weakness into wit and Ladybug's sambalike skippity-skip into a come-on that's equal parts sexuality and self-respect. The specific "Pacifics," about Sunday in New York, respects the literal here-and-now more observantly than any number of gat-filled street whoppers, and "La Femme Fétal," about Butterfly's conversation with a female friend, is the most humane, didactic, and politically informed prochoice song ever recorded. They could be in for some nasty moments if they expect full acceptance in the so-called hip hop community, but what can you do? Alternate on over here. A

Blowout Comb [Pendulum/EMI, 1994]
Their edge was music not attitude, vocals not words--they had 'em both, their fellow middle-class revolutionaries in Arrested Development didn't. So while the follow-up rhymes could be more down-to-earth, it's amazing how good they sound with a live band and limited samples--less jazzy, a loss, but still thick, warm, and smoove. They rap like themselves and no one else, and as skilled as the guys are, Ladybug is the genius, even putting across rap's most (nay, only) charming piece of sun-people demonology: "I'm 62 inches above sea level/Ninety-three million miles above these devils." A-