In 1993 you couldn’t walk down the street or through a high school or through your living room without hearing the song “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat).” It just lived in the ether, lifting Digable Planets out of the controversially-named genre of "alternative Hip-Hop" and placing them squarely in the middle of a conscious revolution.
The trio of rappers — made up of Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, Craig "Doodlebug" Irving, and Mariana “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira — were a dream pairing. Specifically, Ladybug’s ear-catching silken vocals added a distinctly feminine element to every single one of their songs — the likes of which the Hip Hop world had not yet heard when the group debuted.
Ms. Ladybug Mecca grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. She’d been writing and performing with a high school group when she met Doodlebug at a music conference at Howard University.
“I had always been an observant child," she says. "I was writing pieces of things but hadn’t yet found my form.
Doodlebug, from Philadelphia, where Butterfly also had roots with the Dread Poets Society, had been a DJ on the Howard scene. After Mecca graduated from high school, she briefly moved to Philly, and it wasn’t long before the cross-pollination of creativity began.
“We had a mutual love affair with Hip-Hop,” she says.
After the group signed to Pendulum Records, they moved to Brooklyn to pursue their musical dreams.
Digable Planets were making promotional appearances in Europe when their first album Reachin’(A New Refutation of Time and Space) hit the airwaves in the States. At first, Ladybug Mecca had no idea how omnipresent their “Rebirth of Slick” song had become until they came back to do a US tour.
“I remember being in New Orleans in my hotel room and turning on MTV and our video was playing. It came on several times while I was getting ready and at that moment I was like ‘okay, they’re playing this a lot.’ That’s when it hit me.”
The album went gold and the group won a Grammy in 1994, but the buzz was bittersweet for Ladybug because at the time her mother was ill, on the verge of passing away.
“I was sad that other people’s parents were there but she couldn’t be,” she recalls. “She had supported us. She’d made all the scrapbooks and recorded us on VHS. She was happy I’d made something of myself.”
Digable Planets spun in the orbit of groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Gang Starr and other jazz-inspired acts representing Afrocentric lyrics and style.
“That record was about celebrating and honoring Blackness’ contribution to art and the world,” says Ladybug.
Their follow-up album, Blowout Comb, perpetuated the love in ‘94.
“We always maintained creative control. We never had a thumb on our creativity, anyone directing us,” she says.
After their break-up in 1995, Ladybug continued collaborating with other artists and released her solo album Trip the Light Fantastic in 2005. The following year, some may have spotted her in Snoop Dogg’s video “Candy,” where a sample of her “you want ‘em, I got ‘em, dripping like water” lyric from Digable’s “9th Wonder” song provides the hook. Ladybug contributed to a children’s album with Dino 5 and later honored her Brazillian heritage in the project Brookzill! with Prince Paul, Rodrigo Brandão, and Don Newkirk. Listen close to the animated show Sugar & Toys on Fuse TV and you’ll hear her mellifluous vocalizations in a number of characters — an outlet for the funny voices she says she’s bothered her kids with for years now.
Digable Planets have reunited to play several shows over the years and Ladybug confirms a new Digable Planets album is on the horizon. Just as MC Lyte and Queen Latifah inspired her, this emcee continues to inspire young female emcees worldwide, something she says is “a beautiful thing… I love that there are so many different women’s voices speaking out today.”
* HEADER CREDIT: Craig "Doodlebug" Irving, Mary Ann "Ladybug Mecca" Vieira and Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler of Digable Planets pose backstage when they perform at Celebrate Brooklyn! at Prospect Park Bandshell on July 30, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Al Pereira/WireImage)