It’s amazing how a song becomes a classic. Case in point, a hip hop song by a New York-based hip hop group that went against the traditional sounds and style of the time of its release 1992 became become a classic. Even further, it is incredible how said hip hop classic can prompt fans of the song to buy tickets to the group’s concert nineteen years later in Austin, Texas at a venue many Austinites aren’t familiar with by name.
On Friday, March 4 at Venue 222 (formerly Ace’s Lounge), nineties hip hop icons Digable Planets did just that; sold tickets to fans who wanted to hear music from when music was good. In 1992, “The Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” was all over urban radio and music video cable networks. I remember because I am a child of the era and I couldn’t walk down the halls of my junior high without hearing one of my classmates talk about being “cool like dat.” After seeing a decent attendance at Venue 222 Friday night, it was apparent my experience was not unique. Attendees, the majority who were of the age to need a babysitter, must have had similar memories.
Long before the iconic headliners took the stage, one of Austin’s best and most popular hip hop artists, Zeale, served as opening act and host for the night. His style of hipster-hop leans toward the lyrical edutainment brand of hip hop mixed with a little bit a modern day flare a la’ Pharrell or Kanye West. Always colorful and the opposite of shy, Zeale does a good job of keeping the backpackers from getting bored and regular folks nodding their heads. Although his role was more host than MC Friday night, attendees could have used more MCing from Zeale after uncomfortably watching North Carolina hip hop artist Drifter perform generic and forgettable cliché hip hop you hear on bad mixtapes people sell from their trunk. Thankfully it was a short set for both Drifter and the audience.
After Drifter left the stage, Zeale and couple of young ladies came out to talk to the audience and throw some Mardi Gras beads to the audience. After they walked off the stage, everyone waited over an hour and twenty minutes for Digable Planets. DJ Hannibal spun various hip hop tracks just to keep something coming through the speakers, but after thirty minutes it started to feel more like 6th street club than a live music venue.
Surprisingly no one seemed to have left and at 12:15am, Butterfly, Doodlebug and Ladybug Mecca’s replacement in Digable Planets, Queen Makka aka Lady Makka, took the stage with a full band backing them. Enjoying every moment from the instant they took the stage, the trio looked energetic and fresh. It was great to see as I feared, like with any group that was big in the nineties, I would see an old and tired version of what once was. While Butterfly and Doodlebug did have hints of gray hair, on stage they were as young as ever. Butterfly’s voice sounded the same as it did on my old cassettes as he also beat away on a small drum machine.
Having performed various songs from both Reachin’ and Blowout Comb, the audience danced and/or nodded their heads the whole night, enthusiastically cheering and clapping after each song, even shouting requests for their favorite Digable’ song at the stage. After about an hour and fifteen minute set, which is surprisingly longer than I expected, Digable Planets of course closed with the song everyone came to hear, “Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat).” While Queen Makka was no Ladybug Mecca, she held her own with the two original members to give fans in Austin the show they wanted and the old venue with a new name a show to garner some buzz.