The Digable Planets made an indelible mark on hip-hop in the early nineties. Before disbanding in 1995, the band made two critically acclaimed albums-- Reachin’ (A New Revelation of Time and Space) and Blow Out Comb-- and in “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” a genuine crossover hit. After years in the wilderness, Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler has found success in the Shabazz Palaces collective, while still finding time to play occasional shows with Digable Planets. After exploring the possibility of going solo with a coulple of singles over the years, DP member Doodlebug is also jumping in with both feet, releasing Futuristic Sci-Fi, a collaboration with DJ Alex J that finds the MC looking to the future with his feet firmly planted in his Nineties roots.
What have you been up to for the last few years?
I became a husband and a father, and I’ve been doing a lot of family stuff. I’ve always been working on music. For the last year and a half, I’ve been focused on Futuristic Sci-Fi along with some producing and some shows with the Digable Planet crew. Basically, I was just taking care of some issues and plotting a comeback.
This is your first major project outside of Digable Planets.
I put another single in 2001, but it was only a twelve-inch vinyl. This is definitely the most major work I’ve put out since Digable Planets.
What made this the right time to do an album?
I was in the right state of mind. I got my hip-hop mojo back. I had a new son that was six months old and he was a source of inspiration. I just figured that I still had things to say. I still got love for the culture of hip-hop, even though nobody has seen me for a while outside my inner circle. All around the world, I feel like I’m ready to be on blast like I was in the Nineties.
What will fans of your previous work recognize in Futuristic Sci-Fi?
I was a twenty-something year old kid back in those days. I’m a lot older now. Same views, for the most part, but they’ve grown up. There’s evolution. No one is the same person he was in elementary school, high school, or college. You go through new situations in your life, you learn new things, meet people-it should add to your whole philosophy and how you do things. That’s what’s happened with my music. It’s still Doodlebug, but I’m a little more pronounced. I used to be more laid back and let Ladybug and Butterfly take the lead on more things. I was content to be behind the scenes. Now I’m out front, but it’s the same old me; I am fifteen years older, you know?
How did you hook up with DJ Alex?
We actually hooked up over the Internet, way back in the day when MySpace was still hot. He was this producer in New York, and he had this project he was doing with iTunes Japan. They were going to put out a mix tape to help promote iTunes, and they needed a song from him. He asked me to be on the song, and it did pretty well out there. We made a little money and raised a little noise in Japan. He calls me up and talks up this good vibe we have, and sends me a couple more beats. We put together a few new songs, and every couple of months he’ll send me more beats. It eventually turned into the Futuristic Sci-Fi project. I invited to come out with me on tour as part of Digable Planets, and we did a few solo shows together. Over the last couple of years we’ve formed this camaraderie, but it all started with the project for iTunes in Japan.
Do you think this album could have happened without him?
I would definitely have done, and am still doing, my own music with my band the Cosmic Funk Orchestra, who is also the back-up band for Digable Planets. I’m recording a live album with them. Regardless of whether I had met Alex, I would have pursued that project. I’ve been working on it for a couple of years. Whatever I did, however, wouldn’t be Futuristic Sci-Fi. That is definitely a combination of our flow together- him on the beats and me on the rhymes.
It also couldn’t have happened without Star Trek?
We’re both into Star Trek and the whole science fiction thing. My new joint right now is that cartoon Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Fringe. We’re both into stuff like that, and we got together and started making music, that just melded into it. Star Trek is definitely a part of it. Captain Kirk is a pimp.
Why did you decide to release it with the name Doodlebug?
I changed my name to Ce-Knowledge in the Eighties when I started studying Islam and Doodlebug was a name that I came up with I joined Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler and Ladybug to join Digable Planets. DJ Alex J knows me more as Doodlebug. I’m not going to renege on it; it’s my history and my future. I can change my name, but I’m still Doodlebug. And the name is recognizable; people hear it and they know what we’re doing. You can’t run away form who you are. Doodlebug is definitely a part of me.
What would make you happy with this album?
I don’t have a lot of hopes or expectations for this project other than that I would like for people to be able to listen to it. It’s another side of me, and I want to introduce old fans to the new style. For those that have never heard of Doodlebug, I want them to hear the perspective of an O.G. who has been around but can keep up with what’s going on today. I don’t have any expectations of sales; I just want exposure. I’m a different style of hip-hop.
What’s next for you?
Touring. I’m going to be balancing some family time and Digable Planets shows with touring for this record. I hope to have another substantial music project out in the next year.
The engine behind Doodlebug’s resurgence, DJ Alex J, also was on hand to answer a few questions about the project. A self-professed Nineties hip-hop super fan, Alex is ecstatic to be working with a genuine icon from the decade and bringing his flow to a whole new audience.
How did you first get the idea to work with Doodlebug?
He probably told you that I basically reached out to him on the Internet to work on a song for iTunes Japan. Originally when I was contacted to do it, the company wanted an instrumental. The song that I had, “Bringing It Back,” seemed so perfect for a voice like Doodlebug’s that I got in touch with him and turned in the song with his verses. It did really well, so I got back in contact with him. He and his crew came up from Philly to play a few concerts, and we’ve been hanging out ever since. A couple of years later we have a whole album.
Was there any intimidation factor, given his history?
When we did the first song, even though it was just a little song for a mix tape, I was stuck by how good he sounded over my beats. I wanted to freshen up his thing though; I do a little bit of the jazzy sounds, but I also try to function on something that’s more modern. I didn’t want to take him too far, though, where he’s doing Auto-Tune. I wanted to do something like Atmosphere and the stuff they do on Rhymesayers, a little bit more underground, to appeal to a more sophisticated audience. He understood that, and was very down to earth about the collaboration. We’re also both very honest people, and if there was something to be said, one of us going to say it. He doesn’t have an ego about it, and I definitely don’t either.
What about your beats goes so well with Doodlebug’s rhymes?
I’m a Nineties baby. I love to listen to Hieroglyphics, Del, Tribe, De La- I love all those sounds, but I also want to freshen up those flavors. I have a foot in both worlds. My beats have a definite old school feel, but they have the heightened drums to make them sound more modern. I made the drums big over a jazzy, retro background. That’s how I brought it into today’s world. Doodlebug just sounds good when he’s over those jazzy sounds, but he sounds more modern on the stuff we’re doing together. I tried to stay in his pocket- I’m a huge Digable Planets fan. – but he can really rap off a lot of stuff. I was surprised about the range that he has.
How important was it to you that you were able to bring Doodlebug back into the mainstream.
He was my favorite member of Digable Planets. Everybody had his or her favorite member; he was mine. It’s a true honor to me to be working with a member of the golden age of hip-hop. And it’s that much better that he’s such a down to earth person. If there’s a party or something after the show, he’s the one walking around and meeting people. I feel that there’s a connection formed around this idea of what hip-hop should be. It’s like I’m getting to make my big Nineties album today.
What would the best outcome for the album?
Even when we were talking with Fat Beats, the idea was to get his music out there again. Anything past that is extra. Hopefully this will bring some attention to him, and maybe even spur Digable Planets to get back together and do something. And if that doesn’t work out, Doodlebug will at least have some options to get out there and do some other things. I’ve already started working on beats for a second album.