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Cee Knowledge: Still Cool Like Dat.

February 26, 2014

CeeKnowledge02Text by Shaun Frazier. Images by Marie Alyse Rodriguez.

In April of 1994, the Digable Planets walked out of Radio City Music Hall stunned to be holding the Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.

In reality, says Cee Knowledge  (aka Craig Irving – or Doodlebug, as he was then known), the crew was just happy for the invite and the chance to kick it with some of the established legends of the music world.

“We all had our parents with us, which was a surreal situation,” he reflects wistfully. “I got my moms sitting right next to me and there are all these luminaries of the music and entertainment world around.”

The Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” the first single off Digable Planets’ debut album, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space), was nominated alongside some heavy hitters of the early ’90s rap charts and no one inside their camp thought they had a realistic chance of winning the award.

“I’m thinking, ‘Ok, Dr. Dre and Snoop got this,’” Cee Knowledge recalls. “And when they said our name it was like time stopped.”

He was – and still is – flabbergasted.

“I thought, ‘Did they just say Digable Planets?’” he remembers. “Then my mom nudged me. ‘Go, get up there!’ And I was like ‘Oh, oh shit!’”

The now 46-year-old Cee Knowledge spent his formative years in the Mount Airy and West Oak Lane neighborhoods. By the time he was ready to set off for Howard University, the concepts of black empowerment, socialism and insect theory – the idea that the strength of a community lies in how well its denizens work together, free of personal agendas, for the greater good of all, much in the way insects build hives and nests   – had already been ingrained upon him. That combination of ideals and concepts would evolve into the themes of Digable Planets’ dense lyrical style.

CeeKnowledge01“My father was part of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia, so I always would hear stuff like that,” he says. “When I was a little kid he would tell me about the teachings of [Ahmed] Sekou Toure and Kwame Nkrumah and things like that. I wasn’t really super active yet but I was conscious of it. My mom was a little more conservative, but she knew what time it was.”

He speaks with the same tone of honesty and humility you hear in his rhymes. It endears you to him, like a long lost friend or a cousin you had never met. He seems to be someone who has no walls around him, personally or creatively.

“He is one of the coolest, kindest, most humble people that I know,” says Gary Dann, manager of the Boom Room studio and the drummer in Cee Knowledge’s current band, the Cosmic Funk Orchestra. “He believed in me and took me around the world playing drums with Digable Planets for a couple years.”

With Reachin’ having just celebrated its 20th anniversary, rumors about another Digable Planets reunion tour began to circulate.

While Cee Knowledge admits he would love for that to happen, it is most likely just a dream for the die-hards, as each member of the group has moved on to new chapters in their respective lives and careers.

Since the Planets dissolved – first in 1995 and again in 2011 after a few years of touring, Cee Knowledge has mainly performed and recorded with Cosmic Funk Orchestra. They are currently working on a new EP.

Cee Knowledge brings to the Orchestra the same type of insightful and uplifting rhymes that defined the Digable Planets’ steez. The new music  has a similar groove as the woozy jazz loops laid over crisp break beats employed by the Planets. The new material is amplified by a live and funkier version, which gives that Cee Knowledge flow a little extra oomph.

All in all, he is one happy funkonaut.

It is clear that he has always made music from his heart in the hope that it could reach yours. He is proud of his contributions to hip-hop history and looks forward to building on his legacy.

Though music has its fits and starts, he is still riding a natural high.

“I feel good about life, man,” Cee Knowledge notes. “I got my family. I got my health. I’m doing what I love to do. You can’t really ask for anything else.”

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