If you love yourself like you love good music, put your hands together for Cee Knowledge (Doodlebug) & The Cosmic Funk Orchestra
Craig (“Doodlebug”) Irving recognized my area code as I called from outside Marathon Music Works in Nashville before the Jurassic 5/Dilated Peoples/Supernatural/Rhettmatic show happening on a Tuesday. A Tuesday. That just tells you the state of Hip-Hop in Nashville; but at least we got the tour, which skipped Atlanta. My first question to Craig (aka Cee Knowledge aka Doodlebug) was whether he ever battled Supernatural after he mentioned meeting him while being in Digable Planets and living in New York? “Hell no. I’m not stupid”, said Cee. “After growing up in Mt. Airy and moving to Springfield Township, halfway through high school at Penn High School before moving to Springfield Township High School, unwillingly, I went into town a lot. I tried to commute from Springfield Township to North Philly, but when the first snow hit, major snow hit, I came home and was like ‘Mom, I gotta transfer’”.
From Howard University, to Harlem and ultimately back to Philadelphia, Cee Knowledge has run the gamut of being a hip-hop artist and now has seemingly settled into what he has always wanted to do, cosmic funk.
Dillon: So you were involved in the music scene before you went to college?
Cee Knowledge: I started off as a DJ. I used to DJ my middle school parties. Dances and stuff like that. When I got to high school I joined a dj crew from germantown and it was about four of us and we all had our 1200’s, we would have parties sometimes. I would host parties in my basement in Springfield and the crew would come down and we’d be DJing and doing tricks and doing our thing. That was my inspiration for the music. Digging in the crates, going to sound of market street and a places like that, Harmonds records, trying to find the hottest new breaks. When I got to college I met a couple of DJs from Philadelphia that were much better DJs then I could have ever wished I was. I always kinda wrote a song here and there but I never got serious about it until I got to college I learned DJing wasn’t really my thing; I mean it was my thing but I just decided at the time I wanted to be more of a rapper. I thought the rappers would get more love than the DJs. The girls were all into the wrappers so I was like “Yo let me get this mic!”.
D: You’re talking about DJ Trouble Trev?
C: Exactly, he was my friend who went to Central High School. We started a crew called the OSAGE Crew in college after the big MOVE thing. When Mayor Good bombed the MOVE people on OSAGE Ave. Have you heard about that? No, but maybe why nobody ever got charged for the bombing. The neighbors were trying to get these people out of the neighborhood. They owned a house and were like living naturally off the land like black hippies. They all had loooong natty dreads and they had a bunch of kids. The police department came and they had this big standoff with them and a shootout and the police department flew over the house and dropped a bomb, they literally dropped a bomb on the house! Like the gaza strip or something and they blew it up; kids died and it was really a big deal on OSAGE avenue in west philly. So we called our crew the OSAGE crew but it was an acronym. (Out for Sex And Getting Exotic) and we would battle against the New York rappers who thought they were better than the Philly rappers and we’d always have battles and during that time Puffy was a classmate of mine and his crew would battle us. It was crazy back in those days but it was mad fun. A lot of those original members of Bad Boy record label all went to Howard with me and when Puffy left Howard and became the intern at Uptown Records. He pulled a lot of his friends and his circle from Howard and they became members of that bad boy click.
D: Did Puffy invite you to come up?
C: B I wasn’t in his circle like that. The New York cats always thought they were cooler and flyer than the Philly cats. They would be saying “thats the joint” and we would be saying “thats the jawn”.
D: Sounds like New Yorkers haven’t changed putting down Philly cats?
C: Oh no, they would never change but you know that was the home of hip-hop, The Bronx. To this day they still angry of the fact that every other region and the world took over hip-hop.
D: Is that what drove you to moving to New York after you met in Philly as Digable Planets?
C: Nah not really, it was mainly Butterfly at the time was an intern at an old record label called Sleeping Bag Records which was world famous for putting out Just Ice, Mantronix, people like that. During his time as an intern he met a lot of people in the industry and eventually he met an exec at Pendulum Record that liked our demo a lot. So I went up there to the meeting and the dug it and was like “yo we go to go up there now.”
D: I guess, I was interested to hear a little bit about your influences, personally and how they influenced Digable Planets, your Cee knowledge stuff.
C: My inspiration really started out with my mom and my pops. My mom was more like my inspiration of like Jazz music and old school R&B and Soul music like Frank sinatra, Earth Wind and Fire. My father was a member of the Black Panther party and Vietnam Vet and put me on the African Tribal music back when I was a young bol, I was playing around in his house and he was smoking weed and had incense going and I was like wow what’s this. Digging in the crates in Middle School I would always steal my moms records and go downstairs to my little phonograph and she would get mad cause she always knew when it was scratched even if I cleaned them off with alcohol. That was me like getting into music. Once I was into it I was inspired by like rappers like Will Smith who used to call himself MC Spoon and he was down with DJ Jazzy Jeff and they were real big in the Philly scene before they were big on the national scene. Any time there was a big party in Philly like Central High School party. There was also this place called Wagner’s Ballroom on Broad and Olney and that would have big hip-hop parties. and all the top DJ’s and MCs from the city would come. MC Perry P was a part of this group called grand Masters of Funk and then there were people like Rakim, Tribe Called Quest. Native Tongues inspired me big time. Freestyle Fellowship, Pharcyde, I love that stuff, Wu Tang Clan, Cool G Rap. That was a lot of my personal inspirations. Digable Planets inspiration were mainly jazz and funk like Shuggie Otis, Sun Ra, a long list of great artists that inspired us to do that. Digable Planets was a concept and sound created by Ishmael Butler aka Butterfly and he brought me into it. I met him through a girl I was dating at the time while on a double date. He was talking about the insect theory and it seemed his thoughts and philosophies were rooted in the same philosophies I had but he just had a different way of expressing it. He had a different language, a different way of pronouncing it. You know one for all, do everything for the good of the community and I was with that. We clicked and connected.
D: Is that when you started Digable Planets?
C: A little while later I started dating Mary Ann “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira, and we reconnected again and he was like “I finally started putting together stuff, I know you’re in another group but I would love for you to help me finish these demos for Digable Planets”. I had no idea at the time that it was going to do what it did, I just liked doing music, just loved being a part of it, using it as an outlet for me to do something different. He and I used to go to his grandmothers who lived around the corner from my grandmother. Eventually one of the times, during our little think tanks, Ladybug was visiting and wanted to know what we were doing. At the time she was dancer and danced for a little hiphop group. When we went to New York I took her cause she was my girlfriend and when we sat down in front of the A&R guy, they was like “Wow we like the way you all look together, is that the group?” We weren’t formally a group, it was really just me and Ishmael. when we sat down and we were like “Huh? Yea! If thats what you like, but if not then no, thats not the group”
D: I really like the whole insect theory. “They worked together for the good of the colony” what I’m curious about is the transformation of the group?
C: How has that been? Does it hurt? Do you feel like you’ve lost something. I mean yea, I was very hurt when it first happened. There were a lot of bad feelings that stemmed from personal relationships and emotional ties that got broken and people got hurt and lashed out and we were young and didn’t know how to deal with it so we ran away from it like immature people do. I was a little angry, right after I was kinda pissed at them for not realizing what we had and letting it fall for a whimsical reason. After we got back together and I put together a European tour and we had a month of shows lined up and we was like “Wow people actually remember us.” So when we got back to the states we were like wow this is fun, lets keep it going. We did Lollapalooza and Coachella and all the major festivals at the time. We toured from 2006-2009 and eventually we couldn’t do it anymore and we couldn’t get past the issues that had us break up. In 2010 Butterfly and I wanted to keep going but Ladybug wasn’t really with it so we just did it together. We booked some shows and we took along my band, the band I play with now, The Cosmic Funk Orchestra. Then we had this rapper from Nigeria called Lady Madarocka come and took over as the female counterpart for a year. People liked it but then there were some hard core fans that couldn’t imagine Digable Planets without Ladybug and eventually we just decided we were gonna just stop doing it and Ishmael went on to start his new group Shabazz Palaces and I created my new band, the Cosmic Funk Orchestra and Ladybug went on to start doing her solo stuff.
D: Around what time did you start calling yourself Cee Knowledge?
C: I’ve been Cee Knowledge long before I was Doodlebug. Back in college I started to hang around a lot a people who were a part of the Nation of Islam and I started studying it. I changed my name to see knowledge born of Allah in 1987. For Digable Planets, I changed my name to Doodlebug. I wanted to be a cool insect so I chose Doodlebug cause I liked to do graffiti and there was a character in an old 70s Blaxploitation film called Cleopatra Jones called Doodlebug played by Antonio Fargas, (“Man, that broad is ten miles of bad road”) who also played Huggiebear from Starsky and Hutch. I don’t know why but I liked it, Ima be doodlebug, but I was always Cee Knowledge.
D: Where did you meet all these guys for Cosmic Funk Orchestra? Are they from Philly? New York? Mixture?
C: Nah they are all from Philly, except Adam Carlton who is from Camden. When I first started this group we were like a hippie jam band. 12 piece band, horns, keyboards, guitar, bass. Over the years, its hard to keep a band together. Everybody had to you know get a real job or move over to this band. About 2006, there was a young lady in the band, she was like a Deadhead who traveled with the deadhead scene and she came to one of our shows at Stella Blue in Asheville NC. We got there the night before and went to check out Ani Difranco and I met this girl Cosmic Chrissy and she auditioned right there in the club and she sounded good. I told her to come over the next night and cameo on our show and do a quick something and that cameo turned into she kept following us to every city and through her I met Gary/Dan/Mitch/Adam; the crust of my band. Chrissy always had the good weed. I went over to her rehearsal space and met Gary and we started talking and smoking and he invited me to come listen to his beats and stuff and we haven’t stopped hanging since, that was in 2007. Its been the longest I’ve had a band together, knock on wood, I hope we can keep it together.
D: Would you say it was you that brought together the sound or was it a combination of the band?
C: Cosmic Funk was created before the band. I never wanted to be a solo artist, I always wanted to come off as a group, be a part of a movement. Even when it was just me making the beats with my rhyming partner Tai Chi, an original member of CFO. I always wanted it to make a seem like it was a combination of a whole different sounds coming together as one. The vocals also act as an instrument that added to the sound scape. Even though we weren’t officially an orchestra with all those pieces, I felt like the voices and other stuff immersed in the music made up the orchestration. cosmic funk was my thing. There was G-Funk and all these others and I said I’m gonna make this Cosmic Funk. I was always into Sci-Fi. I was a comic book geek. I’m still salty i didn’t got to Comic Con in Philly. I had a show to do and I was solo close to canceling it. I was so close to calling and being like *cough cough * yo i can’t make it tonight.
D: What’s your favorite Star Trek episode?
C: When Captain Kirk kissed Nyota Uhura. Captain kirk was a pimp. He got all the joints. The green chicks, the blue chicks, he did not discriminate.
D: What was the last song you listened too?
C: One of my songs, ha, “Dummies” by Portishead
D: Producing any local artists?
C: Too many to name. I moved to DC and started working there in studios helping young artists record their demos, stage presence. most of them are featured on the new album.
D: Most memorable show?
C: Rio De Janeiro. Free jazz festival. We opened up for James Brown and Marcus Miller. James Brown is the illest. He is literally a pimp, a spaced out pimp.
D: Did you meet him?
C: Oh yea, we met him. we traveled with him. Guru was with us promoting his Jazzmatazz album and Donald Berg and DJ Doowop. We all toured with James Brown and it was just so fun. Guru, one of my big inspirations in the hiphop world with his Gang Star Movement and Jazzmatazz movement.
D: How were you first introduced to Horace Silver? your mother?
C: Mainly Ishmael. my mom got me into it but when I met Ishmael, he was the one who got me really into it. His father was really into it, like grilling him with questions about this scene and the music. Being around him and creating music with him and Digable Planets was when I really started to get deep in the whole movement, old jazz movement and names. A lot of the stuff I would think to myself “I heard this before.” I remembered it playing around the house but I never knew what the name of the artist was. You knew some like miles davis because they were at large but some of the other ones were more obscure. Horace Silver was one of them I became more aware of when I was with Ishmael. Its interesting how different people give you different educations on the things you know best. You gotta be smart enough to be open to listening. Some people do a lot of talking and don’t listen. When you do too much talking you miss out and sometimes you gotta start listening and you learn so much from just listening, even some of your closest friends you might think oh well he’s stupid, he don’t know what he talking about I just like hanging with him but if you actually start listening you’ll learn something from everybody.
September 9th, 2014 Cee Knowledge and The Cosmic Funk Orchestra are releasing “Life, Love & Loot”. Visit their Indie Go-Go to fund their vinyl pressing.