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Our funk zooms like you hit the Mary Jane

Black and white image of someone smoking a joint

Image: Aditya Naidu via Unsplash

  • Track: Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like That)
  • Artist: Digable Planets
  • Album: Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
  • Year: 1993

Well hello there, 2021. Like most of the world, I’m pleased to leave last year behind, even if 2021 feels like Groundhog Year so far. But this new year at least brings an exciting landmark. After 25 tracks and 400ish similes, I’ve received a submission that isn’t spam or my sister trying to get me to feature the Anfield Rap. Out with the old and in with the new.

Given that I do next to nothing to promote this preposterous project, that’s no great surprise. I’ve had a couple of emails/Tweets from rappers I’ve featured, and that’s really gratifying. But mostly I just plod along. So a big thank you to the good people over at http://40yearsofhip-hop.com/ who suggested this simile-laden beauty. These folks are reviewing 1,000 tunes from hip-hop history, from 1979 to 2009. I’ve managed 25 tracks so far and look like a rank amateur in comparison. But there’s two of them and only one of me. At my current rate I can expect to hit 1,000 tracks in around 2078. By that time I reckon I’ll have retired and will have bionic arms and stuff so should be able to increase my output.

While I’m extremely grateful for the interaction with other hip-hop fans, this track does present a bit of a problem. Most of this track’s similes are only half-similes. But I’ve always taken a pretty laid back approach to things, and I’m covered thanks to the ground-breaking law of the one-sided simile. Susie Dent would probably tut and roll her eyes at my assertion that some of what’s ahead are really similes. But this is my website not Susie Dent’s and I’ll do what I jolly well please.

I occasionally suffer a bit of existential angst over whether a rapper’s use of the word ‘like’ means ‘similar to’ or ‘for example’. But I’ve learned to stop worrying and go with it. I think Digable Planets would be with me on this. They are one of the golden era’s most chilled-out acts, with a style so relaxing you sometimes have to struggle to pay attention. Which is one reason I’m glad Genius.com exists. Another is that it helps with some of hip-hop’s more cryptic lyrics, which this track has plenty of. They’re richer in imagery than David Lynch’s dreams after eating an entire baked camembert.

I’ve not spent too much time researching this one (big surprise there), but why bother when 40 Years of Hip-Hop have already done the legwork?

So let’s put our angst about what constitutes a simile to one side and go with the flow, which is basically what this track is about. (Going with the flow, not simile angst.) The video is very apt, as when I hear that laid-back bassline bring us in, I’m immediately transported to a hazy jazz club. Nice.

My favourite thing about Brooklyn’s foremost jazz/alternative hip-hoppers is that the MCs named themselves after insects. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, but I’m now so relaxed I can’t open my eyes to check. But I have decided that if I were a member of Digable Planets, I’d call myself Earwig. That’s right. Earwig.

Anyway, cue bassline…

The lyrics

View full annotated lyrics on genius.com

[Verse 1 – Butterfly]

We like the breeze flow straight out of our lids
Them they got moved by these hard-rock Brooklyn kids

No existential angst over this first simile. All that comes later. Don’t be fooled into thinking Butterfly’s talking eyelids here, that would be odd. It’s their heads. Digable’s flow is so mellow it’s like a gentle breeze on a warm summer’s day. It’s snowing where I am right now, so that’s welcome.

Us floor rush when the DJ’s booming classics
You dig the crew on the fattest hip-hop records
He touch the kinks and sinks into the sounds
She frequents the fattest joints caught underground
Our funk zooms like you hit the Mary Jane
They flock to booms man boogie had to change

Given how laid back Digable Planets are, it’s no real surprise to find a cheeky marijuana-related simile tucked away here. Out of almost 400 similes I’ve scrutinised (using the term loosely), this is the eighth one. Appropriately.

Marijuana is right up there as one of the most common simile themes, I think. I’d check, but I’m so chilled out I can barely move my arms.

Who freaks the clips with mad amount percussion?
Where kinky hair goes to unthought-of dimensions
Why’s it so fly cause hip-hop kept some drama
When Butterfly rock the light blue-suede Pumas
What by the cut we push it off the corner
How was the buzz entire hip-hop era?
Was fresh and fat since they started saying outtie
‘Cause funks made fat from right beneath my hoodie
The poobah of the styles like Miles and shit
Like sixties funky worms with waves and perms

We have to interrupt Butterfly’s rumination on the Digable Planets’ place in the hip-hop landscape for a second here. This use of the word ‘like’ is what’s caused me some anxiety. Does it mean ‘similar to’ or ‘for example’? You can read it either way. But as the internet’s pre-eminent hip-hop simile expert, I’m always going to lean towards ‘similar to’. I’m not about to rob myself of a couple of lush similes now am I? So I’m going out on a limb and declaring that Butterfly is comparing Digable Planets’ style to jazz supremo Miles Davis.

And it’s the same deal with the second simile. ‘Funky worms’ is lost on me to be honest. Maybe Butterfly’s been spending a bit too long at the vivarium. Genius points us to this bizarre little Ohio Players’ number. Let’s pretend it wasn’t released in 1973. If you’ve listened to pretty much any ‘90s West Coast hip-hop you’ll recognise it as a hotbed of samples.

Just sendin’ junky rhythms right down ya block
We be to rap what key be to lock

Here’s where the law of the one-sided simile comes in. Remember that something like ‘I do it like that’ is too ambiguous. I just won’t have it. But I will accept a simile where we know one thing being compared, in this case Butterfly’s coolness. We just don’t know what he’s comparing it to.

[Hook – Butterfly]

But I’m cool like dat
I’m cool like dat
I’m cool like dat
I’m cool like dat
I’m cool like dat
I’m cool like dat
I’m cool like dat
I’m cool

These hooks (and the outro, where Digable Planets hammer the rule into the ground)

have led to a bunch of uncategorisable similes. ‘Coolness’ isn’t something I’m about to use as a category. And because Butterfly repeats the same thing eight times, it only goes in once. I’m generous almost to a fault, but not that generous.

Next up is our first female MC in a while, Ladybug. Or Ladybird, as she’d call herself in this country. I’m afraid I’ve not got the foggiest idea what she’s on about.

[Verse 2 – Ladybug]

We be the chocolates taps on my raps
She innovates at the sweeter cat naps
He at the funk club with the vibrate
Them they be crazy down with the Five Nat’

See what I mean? Even Genius isn’t particularly helpful here ,although has cleared up that reference to the Five Percent Nation. We’ve met them a few times already.

It can kick a plan then a crowd burst
Me I be digging it with a bump verse
Us we be freaking til dawn blinks an eye
He gives the strangest smile so I say hi (wassup)
Who understood, yeah understood the plans
Him heard a beat and put it to his hands
What I just flip let borders get loose
How to consume or they’ll be just like juice

Uh-huh. So all I’ve got so far is that Ladybug’s met a potential suitor at the club. After that your guess is as good as mine.

If it’s the shit we’ll lift it off the plastic
The babes’ll go spastic, hip-hop gains a classic
Pimp playing shock it don’t matter I’m fatter
Ask Butter how I zone (man, Cleopatra Jones)

This is a whisker away from being simile. Ladybug compares herself here to Blaxploitation character Cleopatra Jones. But it’s not direct enough for me.

Each verse ends with a hook like this one, which gives us one unique simile. Until we get to the end of the track that is, when all simile hell breaks loose. Stay tuned.

[Hook – Butterfly

And I’m chill like dat
I’m chill like dat
I’m chill like dat
I’m chill like dat
I’m chill like dat
I’m chill like dat
I’m chill like dat
I’m chill

[Bridge – All together now]

Blink…blink…blink…blink…blink…blink…blink…
Think…think…think…think…think…think…think…

Our final verse brings in the third planet, Doodlebug. I’ve never heard of an insect with this name, but good old Wikipedia says it could be a woodlouse, antlion larvae or a cockchafer (snigger). Maybe Doodlebug was late to the recording session or something, because his verse is much shorter than the other two. I’m not complaining, because I don’t really understand most of it.

[Verse 3 – Doodlebug]

We getcha free ’cause the clips be fat boss
Them, they’re the jams and commence to going off
She sweats the beat and ask me ’cause she puffed it
Me, I got crew kids seven and a crescent

Us cause a buzz when the nickel bags are dealt
Him, that’s my man with the asteroid belt
They catch a fizz from the Mr. Doodle-big
He rocks a tee from the Crooklyn nine-pigs
The rebirth of slick like my gangsta stroll
The lyrics just like loot come in stacks and rolls

Ooh look, a title drop. And a double simile drop. Sadly that’s the only interesting thing about this verse.

You used to find a Bug in a box with fade
Now he boogies up your stage plaits twist or braids

[Hook – Doodlebug]

And I‘m peace like dat
I’m peace like dat
I’m peace like dat
I’m peace like dat
I’m peace like dat
I’m peace like dat
I’m peace like dat
I’m peace

With only the outro remaining, you might be wondering where we go simile-wise from here. I suggest you take a leaf out of Digable Planets’ book and chill out, because here they come. Tucked away amongst these is our (fanfare please) 400th simile. I’d hoped for something a little bit more exciting than ‘I jive like that’ but you can’t have everything. There are 15 half similes here, really giving the track the boost it needs to get a bit higher up the simile leaderboard.

[Outro – Doodlebug]

Check it out man I groove like dat
I’m smooth like dat
I jive like dat
I roll like dat

[Outro – Ladybug]

Well yo I funk like dat
I’m phat like dat
I’m in like dat

‘Cause I swing like dat

[Outro – Doodlebug]

We jazz like dat
We freak like dat
We zoom like dat

We out, we out, we out

I’m not out, quite the opposite actually. I’m in lockdown.

Including these half similes, that’s a total of 25 for Digable Planets. That’s up there with the best of them. It might feel a little cheaty, but life would be boring without these little controversies. And I’m too busy being delirious with excitement that someone submitted a track.

So a good start to the year after all. Like a Scotsman who’s Hogmanayed a little too hard, I need a lie down after all that. See you next time.

The stats

Similes:25
Words:586
Words per simile:23.44
Length:4m 21s
Similes per minute:5.75
Expected months before next reader-submitted track:23

4 Comments

  1. Pingback:Swimming in beats like a dolphin - Internet Hip-hop Simile Database

  2. J

    Then when the song 1st came out to now 2021 it’s still the shit I hear it and it’s like hearing it for the 1st time…wow now that’s music

    • Rayner

      You’re not wrong J, it’s a classic. I love how relaxed it makes me feel, like aural Valium. Thanks for reading!

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