According to the excellent podcast “Fresh Off The Spaceship” hosted by Larry Mizell Jr. and Martin Douglas, rapper Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler spent his youth splitting time between New York and Seattle. He graduated high school at Garfield and then moved to New York City, landing an internship at Sleeping Bag Records. In 1992, his trio called Digable Planets put out a viral single called “Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” which immediately climbed the Billboard charts. By ’93 Digable dropped a debut album, and the group would go on to win a Best Rap Performance Grammy in 1994. Go to KEXP.org to hear this interview with Ishmael, and be sure to check out the entire “Fresh Off The Spaceship” series!
That 1993 debut album was called Reachin’ (A New Refutation Of Time And Space), and it was huge all over the world. Music gatekeeper Pitchfork put it this way, “They personify the balance they promote. It’s an album that questions the very fabric of our existence while celebrating its nuances. As Digable Planets refute the boundaries of their continuum, their imagined cosmology creates a jazzy, spatial anomaly full of sonic wonders and game theory.” In 2017, Rolling Stone celebrated the 25th anniversary of “Rebirth Of Slick,” writing that, “Reachin’ offered a revolutionary spin on hip-hop, smoothing out the genre’s hard edges with a sound that relied heavily on jazz samples and intricate lyricism that drew heavily from literature and revolutionary politics.”
The first lines of “Rebirth Of Slick” go like this, “We like the breeze flow straight out of our lids/Them they got moved by these hard rock Brooklyn kids.” Track two “Pacifics” begins with, “Who Me? I’m coolin in New York, chillin in New York,” and the chorus is based on a “New York is red hot” sample. The track “Where I’m From” has lyrics like, “We be reading Marx where I’m from/The kids be rockin’ Clarks where I’m from/You turn around your cap, you talk over a beat/And dig some sounds boomin’ out a jeep.” As a Seattle rap listener at the time, I was sure that “Where I’m From” and “Rebirth Of Slick” were love letters to Brooklyn. I always thought of Reachin’ as a New York record, and Digable as a New York group, period. But as Ishmael returned to Seattle, joining groups Cherrywine and then Shabazz Palaces, he reestablished his Seattle residency and identity. I am finally beginning to understand how some could see Reachin’ as a ‘Northwest’ hip-hop album. I’m sure that Ish will always have a dual love of both cities, and pontificators like me will have to resist assigning him to one or the other. At the end of “Where I’m From,” the answer is repeated over and over, “Everywhere, every-everywhere, everywhere, every-everywhere.” I guess Ish is from everywhere. Written by Novocaine132