by Minister of Information JR Valrey
Digable Planets is one of the most under-rated groups in Hip Hop history. Occasionally fans say how great they were in passing, but they never fully have been given their ceremonial flowers and salute for taking Hip Hop to an innovative place.
When people mention the Jazz roots of Hip Hop, many mention the legendary A Tribe Called Quest, but it was Digable Planets on both of their groundbreaking albums that didn’t just tinker with Jazz, they integrated it fully into their music at least a decade before the rap group The Roots came to prominence.
Digable Planets was also innovative in the way that they spit their political rhymes. While everybody else was trying to mimic the cadence and styles of Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, XClan, Brand Nubian and Poor Righteous Teachers, Digable Planets delivered their messages of freeing political prisoners, self sufficiency and liberation without too much effort, in a fly, groundbreaking and laidback way.
The jewel of the lyrical trio is the very softspoken wordsmith of Brazilian ancestry known as Ladybug Mecca. Many of the younger Hip Hop fans may not know her by name, but they know her by bars. She’s the one who rhymed, “You want it? I got it, drippin’ like water,” on Snoop’s song “Candy.”
Having done a phenomenal solo project that did not get near the accolades and attention it deserved called “Trip the Light Fantastic” and having worked with the legendary producer Prince Paul of De La Soul fame and others in a Brazilian Hip Hop group called Brookzill!, Ladybug Mecca has been busy making music that is genre-bending – considering that labeling music is something that was created to sell music, not by the creators of the art form.
Although Ladybug Mecca has been my friend and comrade for many years, I am still very honored to interview somebody whose art played a part in me becoming politically conscious and active. So check her out in her own words.
JR Valrey: With Hip Hop celebrating its 50th anniversary, how does it feel to be the first national woman MC who was in a legendary group with men who expressed themselves in an innovative way?
Ladybug Mecca: The first national group was The Funky 4 + 1, sending much love to MC Sha-Rock. I feel very fortunate to be a part of something this special and unique; it hasn’t been explored as much as I’d like to see. I hope that future generations can look back and feel inspired to create something special and balanced among genders.
We were fortunate to have had full creative control, which allowed us to explore many topics crucial to both men and women. I feel that it is extremely important if you consider yourself an artist to continuously explore and revisit your voice and purpose. You may find that it changes as your own life changes.
JR Valrey: How does it feel for you and Digable to be sampled so much by people like E40, Rick Rock and Snoop when initially y’all made music for the conscious community?
Ladybug Mecca: Hip hop from the Bay Area is a major Mecca of innovation from language to rhythms, fashion and everything! As far as I’m concerned, we are all family but have different perspectives to share. We are not a monolith, so the fact that Rick Rock is compelled to flip something that we say, whether it was because of the tone of our voices, our word choices or both, whatever the reason, it’s truly an honor.
JR Valrey: You kinda recently were a part of a group that also included Prince Paul that was making international/Brazilian music. Can you talk about that experience and that album?
Ladybug Mecca: Brookzill! was formed by Prince Paul, Rodrigo Brandão, an MC from São Paulo, and the late Don Newkirk, rest in peace. They asked me to join the group because their idea was a mash up of Brooklyn Hip Hop to Brasilian Hip Hop incorporating traditional Afro-Brasilian music. My family is from Brazil. I can speak Portuguese, so it just made sense to all of us. It was a labor of love recording music in Brazil with live musicians – and vocals in ATL and Queens.
JR Valrey: On your only solo album you rhymed but also displayed other forms of music. What did you grow up off of and what inspires you sonically?
Ladybug Mecca: I grew up listening to a lot of different styles of music. From Brasilian jazz, samba and bossa nova to James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Sade, hip hop, go-go music from the DMV. I am a melting pot of inspiration and sounds, and it came through on that project.
JR Valrey: What kind of production do you look for when putting together your solo projects?
Ladybug Mecca: Usually, I look for whatever calls to me emotionally. It’s usually the music that dictates what I will talk about. Lately, the music has a pensive and contemplative feel because I’ve been reflecting on my life, how my purpose and priorities have evolved, and expressing those things.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about your upcoming album with Adrian Younge? What does it sound like?
Ladybug Mecca: Sonically, it sounds like Adrian’s interpretation of The Blackbyrds, Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jackson. Lyrically, it sounds like my most inner dialogue. It’s very personal.
JR Valrey: Why did Digable Planets only do two albums? If you could go back, would you push to do more? Why?
Ladybug Mecca: We only did two albums because we had reached a breaking point in our personal relationship. Things didn’t feel good anymore and the magic had been buried as a result. Life pulled us in different directions after that.
In hindsight, sure, it would have been great to have had the maturity to talk things through, but we were young and with youth comes immaturity. Our journey is what it is. We had and still have lessons both individually and collectively to learn and grow from.
JR Valrey: Where does Ladybug Mecca see herself in five years musically and artistically?
Ladybug Mecca: In five years, I see myself diving into artistically telling stories of ancestral past, present and future through various mediums, sonically and visually; creating multi-media experiences to spark thought for Us.
JR Valrey: How did you feel after walking into the crowd after you and Digable performed in Concord, and the Bay Area crowd – that’s not necessarily Digable fans – showed you crazy love?
Ladybug Mecca: I felt recharged! When I share my art, I aim to bring freedom through the joy of music. I aim to inspire with love, and walking through the pavilion after the show I felt that energy being given right back to me through interactions and conversations with people.
It was especially nourishing to experience the abundance of love that I received from Black women. I didn’t know how much I needed that at that very moment. It was spiritual, medicinal and comforting.
JR Valrey: What is next for you? How can people keep up with you online?
Ladybug Mecca: What’s next for me is continuing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our first album, touring the US. Continuing to explore my new chapter in life through my creativity, loving on my immediate and global majority communities. The only social media that I partake in is IG @ladybugmecca and Facebook Ladybug Mecca.
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, is also the editor in chief of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. He teaches the Community Journalism class twice a week at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper office.