Rap Analysis – Digable Planets


What’s up. I just got finished checking out the Digable Planets track one of you sent me, found here, called “Appointment At The Fat Clinic.” Get the lyrics here. These are my thoughts.

Although I’ve tried to get into them, because they’re generally hailed as one of the greatest rap groups of all time, I’ve never really been able to get in deep with Digable. This has less to do with their rap, which is generally good, but more to do with their beats. I like more uptempo, hard-hitting beats, and just like on this song, they come with a more jazzy feel. It’s important to note that on this song, though, I’m considering only their rap, and not their beat.

But even their raps have a jazzy feel to them. There’s no need to point out the uniqueness of Doodlebug’s verse, in the 3rd one: he doesn’t really rhyme, but he does speak his words in rhythm. That’s called spoken verb, and, just as Digable Planets is known for their deep knowledge of their musical ancestry, they display that here: a spoken delivery like that really reminds me of where rap comes from in the work of Gil Scott-Heron. Hell, they even reference 1930s/1940s jazz great Charlie Parker by name, and allude to the new trend of avant-garde post 1965. But check out Heron’s song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” on YouTube here. Heron also appears at the end of a song near the end of Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” album, so you might know him from that too. The track can be found on Youtube here. Check out how Doodlebug’s and Scott’s deliveries are similar, even if Scott’s words and delivery are a little more hard-hitting.

This loose approach to flow is found throughout the other rappers’ verses as well. They kinda have rhymes here and there, their sentences start and stop in unexpected places, their rhythms don’t really fit the natural cadence of the words they’re saying. They also don’t flip rhymes at the end of sentences, bars, or phrases, where’d you expect them: they flip them inside the sentence. For instance, when Butterfly drops the line “at the speed of bop” to “comrades is an example of this.” You expect a rhyme on “hard rock” at the sentence that follows that one, but instead he rhymes on “comrades.”

In another free-flowing vein, they lay sentences over the bar line. “Stash a fat gat cause the loops let you dig / with a bloom swoon and a full moon.” The slash represents the bar line. Also consider what they talk about: the rhyme-narrative barrier here is very loose. Check out my MF DOOM analysis here to remind yourself what that is.

Finally, consider the structure of the song: a long beat-only intro, much longer than most, before the rapper comes in. Then, a freestyle, where all the rappers have their own verse, and no hook. This is yet another example of their free-form approach to the music, a philosophical stance which they stake out literally, not just musically, in Doodlebug’s free-spoken verse, which I quote here:

“Younger musicians…have acquired a degree of /
Musical sophistication which supersedes many of the previous standards of excellence”

That says it all right there, an artistic manifesto of sorts.

Thanks guys!


Martin Connor is a music teacher & writer from Philadelphia, PA, with a music degree of high distinction from Duke University who is currently studying for a master’s degree at Brandeis University in Boston, MA, while focusing his research on the vocal melodies of the rap genre. He has contributed freelance articles to HipHopDX, Complex, and Pigeons and Planes, and had multiple articles from his website, www.RapAnalysis.com go viral on BET, The Source, XXL, and MTV. He teaches rap lessons online through the music school LessonFace, and has a book, The Artistry Of Rap Music, forthcoming from the McFarland Publishing House, scheduled for release in late 2017, as a follow-up to his 2014 contribution to their anthology "Eminem & Rap, Poetry, Race." He welcomes all comments, compliments, insults, and restaurant suggestions at mepc36@gmail.com.

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