Digable Planets, the hip-hop trio most notable for its 1993 Grammy-winning single, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” performed at the Marin County Fair at San Rafael’s Marin Center on Sunday evening.
As one of 1993’s breakout records, Digable Planets’ debut album “Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)” included songs in the trio’s jazz-inspired style that tackled a timely social issue: abortion. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey reaffirmed the right to have an abortion. In response, group members Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, Mariana “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira and Craig “Doodlebug” Irving released “La Femme Fetal,” a “Reachin'” track on which Butterfly shares a story about a woman who found herself and her boyfriend in the position of having to consider aborting her pregnancy.
On June 24 of this year, the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion, upheld since 1973, no longer exists.
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“La Femme Fetal” lyrics read, “She sat me down, and dug my frown and began to run it down/ ‘You remember my boyfriend Sid, that fly kid who I love/ Well our love was often a verb and spontaneity has brought a third/ But due to our youth and economic state, we wish to terminate/ About this we don’t feel great, but baby, that’s how it is …'”
“That song is about a result of systematic oppression. The profound thing is that nothing’s really changed since then,” Butterfly said in an interview after his group’s Marin County Fair set. “All art is responsible for calling out the systems.”
“It’s always been a topical debate,” said fan David Burnside, while he waited for the show to start in the Marin County Fair’s lawn section. “For 50 years, artists have responded because art has a responsibility to keep these conversations alive.”
In the 1993 album’s closing song, “Examination of What,” Ladybug Mecca criticizes the Supreme Court with lyrics, “What is really what if I can’t even get comfortable because the Supreme Court is, like, all in my uterus?”
“I remember where I was when I first heard that song [on that] album,” said Digable Planets fan Camille Simmons before the show.
“It’s crazy how history repeats itself.”
When Digable Planets took the stage at the July 3 show, fans of all ages gathered in anticipation. Screams from carnival ride riders could be heard in the distance until Digable Planets opened with “May 4th Movement.” The 1994 song is named after 1919 student protests against imperialism in China.
The trio did not perform either 1993 abortion rights track at the fair, but it did not shy away from its social justice themes. Soon after the opener, the group performed “Graffiti” an upbeat song about speaking up and disrupting the status quo. Doodlebug encouraged the audience to stand in solidarity with all who face hardships. The crowd roared in agreement.
Digable Planets’ artists are not the only musicians to speak up for abortion rights. During a June 27 concert in London, the Berkeley-born lead singer of Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, told the crowd that he plans to renounce his United States citizenship in response.
During the final set of the Mosswood Meltdown festival in Oakland’s Mosswood Park on Sunday, Kathleen Hanna of the headliner, reunited ’90s riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, said, “They’re stacking the Supreme Court to take away everyone’s bodily autonomy. We’ve got to vote. … It’s everyone’s rights on the line.”
Earlier in the day, when the Linda Lindas announced the band’s merchandise had sold out at the festival and 20% of the receipts would be going to abortion funds, the crowd cheered in approval. Bassist Eloise Wong, 14, and guitarist Lucia de la Garza, 15, wore “Rock for Choice” T-shirts onstage. Other artists, including Twompsax, Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries, San Francisco queercore pioneers Pansy Division and emcee John Waters, spoke out fiercely against the Supreme Court decision during the two-day festival.
After the Digable Planets show the Marin County Fair on Sunday, Butterfly said that he hopes to see other artists speak out and take action against systematic oppression.