Julia Smith's blog

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Kaitlin Olson & Jeff Chang

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Kaitlin Olson on "Sweet Dee" and the Morally Bankruptcy in It's Always Sunny on Philadelphia

Kaitlin Olson plays Sweet Dee on the long-running sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Dee is the only female member of "The Gang", a bunch of depraved, self-centered pals who run a bar. The Gang is constantly looking for ways to get rich quick, humiliate their enemies, get out of work, and prove once and for all the talent, charisma and brilliance they hold to be self-evident. In an unusual move for a solo female character, Dee doesn't serve to counterbalance the guys' bad behavior -- she absolutely matches their pace.

Olson talks to us about creating a more fully-fleshed character for Dee, how she came to comedy, and how she ended up dating (and marrying) her showrunner.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia just began its eleventh season. It airs Wednesday nights at 10pm on FXX.

This interview originally aired in January 2015.

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Jeff Chang on Art, Race, and How Diversity Now Means "Them"

About ten years ago, Jeff Chang published his book Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. His new book is a sort of follow-up -- it chronicles some of the cultural and racial shifts we've experienced as a nation. It's called Who We Be: The Colorization of America. It's now available in paperback.

Chang talks to us about what "diversity" means to us today, the struggle for artists to defy racial categorization, and how and why corporations embraced multiculturalism.

This interview originally aired in January 2015.

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The Outshot: What It Means to Be Superhuman

Jesse tells us about the life and legend of Andre the Giant.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn Holiday Special: Rob Halford & Ronnie Spector

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Rob Halford of Judas Priest rings in Christmas in his own unique style

Rob Halford is the legendary Metal God, and frontman of seminal heavy metal group Judas Priest. The band's hits include Breaking the Law, You've Got Another Thing Coming and Hell Bent For Leather. One of his solo albums is a heavy metal holiday celebration called Halford III: Winter Songs.

Halford sat down to talk with us about why he included the most spiritual songs on his Christmas record, the early days of Judas Priest, and what it was like to be both a metal god and a closeted gay man.

This interview originally aired in December 2009.

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Girl Group legend Ronnie Spector on Christmas, the Beatles and the perfect coiffure

Ronnie Spector, the very bubbly and Christmas-spirit filled lead singer of legendary 60s girl group The Ronettes, performed what became Christmas classics on A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, and she's recorded some more recent songs to add to the list with Ronnie Spector's Best Christmas Ever.

This interview originally aired in December 2010.

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The Outshot: The Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special

Jesse doesn't have many holiday traditions. But he'll tell you about the one thing that he makes time for every year: The Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special.

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Celebrate the Holidays with Judge John Hodgman

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We've got five years' worth of episodes of Judge John Hodgman under our belt now, which includes a number of holiday themed episodes!

Our initial foray into the holidays happened in our first two months as a podcast! Wondering about the origin of the Sadness Tree? You'll find it in TO TREE OR NOT TO TREE, about the appropriate time to put up holiday decorations.

PROBABLE CLAUS deals with the legend of Santa Claus and whether to create a Santa tradition with children.

AWAY WITH THE MANGER grapples with blending the holiday traditions of an Atheist (but culturally Jewish) dad and a mom who was raised Catholic.

The Judge is visited by the spirits of litigants past in the JUDGE JOHN HODGMAN HOLIDAY SPECIAL. Check it out for updates from the Bat Brothers of Die Flederhaus, the BFFs from The Long-Necked Custody Dispute and Jason Sims of To Tree or Not to Tree.

Bailiff Jesse and Judge Hodgman clear out the holiday docket in IT'S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHAMBERS.

We celebrated Christmas in June this year with a NC-based Santa portrayer, and his wife Virginia. Is it OK for Andy to ho-ho-ho the year round? For a charming Southern Santa and his wife, check out THE SANTA SUIT.

Roland and Nyssa wanted to reboot their family's Christmas gathering this year in FELIZ GRAVITAS. Should the whole gang go watch Star Wars instead?

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: John Cleese & Dee Dee Penny

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John Cleese on His Early Life and the Road to Comedy

John Cleese is one of the most influential figures of comedy. He's best known as one the creative forces behind the legendary comedy troupe Monty Python. But before that, he was almost a lawyer.

Cleese went to Cambridge, studied law, and was about to accept a job with a big firm when another opportunity came up. This one was perhaps slightly less distinguished, but infinitely more appealing to Cleese. The BBC was impressed by his work with his college comedy revue, The Footlights, and offered him a job writing and producing comedy.

In his memoir So, Anyway… Cleese discusses his journey, from his childhood in prep school, to his early days of sketch comedy at Cambridge, to the co-founding of the Pythons.
Cleese will talk about being one of the "scientific" minds of the Pythons, writing and re-writing with his comedy partner Graham Chapman, and how he felt about the recent Monty Python reunion.

Cleese's memoir, So, Anyway is available now in paperback.

This interview originally aired December 9, 2014.

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Dee Dee Penny of Dum Dum Girls Talks about Early Days on MySpace, Creating a Persona, and Overcoming Anxiety and Stage Fright

Kristin Gundred, AKA Dee Dee Penny, is the creative force behind the band Dum Dum Girls. But she wasn't always front and center. She's played in bands for almost fifteen years now, playing drums and singing in other people's groups. Eventually she realized the only way to create the music she wanted was to do it herself. So Dee Dee created a MySpace page and started working on her music.

Now Dee Dee and Dum Dum Girls have three studio albums under their belt, including their most recent, Too True.

Dee Dee talks to Jesse about making music in her bedroom, constructing the persona of Dee Dee Dum Dum, and overcoming anxiety and stage fright to be a rock musician.

This interview originally aired August 19, 2014.

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The The Outshot: Is 'What's Up Fatlip' the Least Braggy Rap Song Ever Written?

Don't call it a comeback. Jesse tells us about the LEAST braggy rap song ever written, "What's Up Fatlip?"

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Allison Janney & Ishmael Butler

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You've got only a few more days to check out Bullseye Live on Tour - there are a handful of tickets remaining for Boston and Brooklyn with guests Barney Frank, Mission of Burma, Tavi Gevinson, David Cross, and Pharoahe Monch. It's all at BullseyeTour.com. Don't miss it!

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Ishmael Butler on the Short Life of Digable Planets and the Cosmic Hip Hop of Shabazz Palaces

In the early 1990s, the hip hop group Digable Planets broke through with their single "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)". The single was jazzy and laid-back, and became a crossover hit. The trio were pegged by some as a counterpoint to gangsta rap, but they didn't love the efforts to categorize their sound. They went further on their next boundary-pushing release, the classic record Blowout Comb. The album was critically acclaimed, but didn't sell well, and the group drifted apart shortly afterward.

Founding member Ishmael Butler was only in his mid-20s when Digable Planets broke up. And so he tried other things, like filmmaking. He still made music, but the releases were few and far between. About six years ago, he teamed up with Tendai Maraire to form a new group, called Shabazz Palaces.

Shabazz Palaces' latest release is called Lese Majesty, and it expands on their interstellar sound.

Butler spoke to us about his days as a indie label gopher, the awkward audition Digable Planets had to endure for a record company executive, and the the transformative sounds of Shabazz Palaces.

Digable Planets will be teaming up for a reunion show in Seattle this December.

Todd Martens on Young Love and Defying Expectations

Beyond interesting conversations with people in culture, we like to tell you about interesting cultural stuff. There's so much stuff out there, you don't have time to listen to everything. That's why we've brought in Todd Martens, who writes about music for the LA Times, to tell you about two albums you can dive into without hesitation.

Martens recommends Material Issue's 1991 album, International Pop Overthrow, a combination of cynicism and idealism.

He also recommends Summerteeth by Wilco, an album which explores a different side of Wilco.

You can find Todd's writing in the LA Times and on their blog, Pop and Hiss.


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"The Song That Changed my Life": Director Michel Gondry Gets Nostalgic for "Le Sud" by Nico Ferrer

There's a certain kind of feeling to the director Michel Gondry's films. A little bit of happiness mixed with sadness. Nostalgia for something that you experienced, or maybe something you wish you had experienced. You may have felt it watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, or his new film Mood Indigo.

For "The Song That Changed My Life", Gondry describes the feeling of saudade and how he felt watching Nico Ferrer perform the song "Le Sud" on a Saturday night.

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Allison Janney, from Loose Cannon Sitcom 'Mom' to Intimate Drama in 'Masters of Sex'

If you've seen Allison Janney on television lately, it's been in one of two very different roles. On the Showtime series Masters of Sex, Janney guest stars as a somewhat naive, vulnerable 1950s housewife who experiences a breakthrough after many years in a sexless (but not loveless) marriage. Her story is both heartbreaking and hopeful. In the CBS sitcom Mom, she plays Bonnie, a recovering alcoholic who's outrageous, biting, and very funny. Bonnie's been down, but she's making peace with her estranged daughter and getting her life back together. Janney's characterizations are versatile; they allow her to be warm, steely, confident, and thin-skinned by turns. Janney has won Emmys for both roles.

She spoke to us about her early acting days (including auditioning for an intimidatingly handsome Paul Newman), getting comfortable with the inevitable nude scenes for Masters of Sex, and the ways that her mom's background and brother's struggle with addiction gave her insight and empathy for her current roles.

Mom is in its third season on CBS. You can see it Thursdays at 9/8c.

The Outshot: Orson Welles and 'Touch of Evil'

Jesse explains why the last Hollywood picture Orson Welles directed, Touch of Evil, tells us so much about Welles as an artist.

This episode originally aired in August 2014.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Tig Notaro & John Darnielle

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Come see Bullseye LIVE in Los Angeles, Boston, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Philadelphia and Washington DC next month! Live interviews, comedy, music and more. Get your tickets now, they're going fast. Check out BullseyeTour.com for tickets.


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"I Have Nothing to Lose Now": Tig Notaro on Life and Stand Up Comedy After Cancer

In 2012, the stand up comic Tig Notaro had a famously bad year. She caught pneumonia, which snowballed into C. Diff. She and her girlfriend broke up. Her mother passed away unexpectedly. And then, she learned she had breast cancer.

You’re probably familiar with what came next. Notaro headed out to a stand up gig in Los Angeles, at the Largo. But she didn’t feel right performing her usual set. She decided to open up like she had never before. Hours after she received the diagnosis, she went on stage and said to the audience, “Hello, I have cancer”.

She took the audience through the pain she had experienced over the last few months. It was still in her deadpan style, with jokes and stories that were brave and sometimes uncomfortably funny.

Notaro is in remission now, and she’s continued to perform stand up. A recent documentary on her called Tig, tells the story of the Largo performance and her life since. It’s available for streaming on Netflix. Her recent national tour, Boyish Girl Interrupted is now a comedy special airing on HBO.

Tig Notaro spoke with Jesse last year.

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John Darnielle on 'Wolf in White Van', Working with Teenagers, and Artistic Responsibility

You probably know John Darnielle as a lead member (and sometimes only member) of the band The Mountain Goats. His music is known for its poignant lyrics and simple instrumentation. Darnielle started the band in 1991 and has since released 14 albums.

Now, he’s written his first novel Wolf in White Van. The novels tells the story of Sean, a young man who has survived a suicide attempt, but is horribly disfigured in the process. Sean goes on to create a mail-order role-playing game, only to find out how his imagination can have real-world consequences.

Darnielle talks to Jesse about why lyrics are so important to him, subliminal messaging, and how much artistic responsibility we should assign to writers, musicians and other creative people.

Wolf in White Van is now available in paperback.

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The Outshot: Nina Simone’s “Four Women”

Jesse talks about one of his favorite singers, Nina Simone, and “Four Women”.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Russell Simmons & Carl Wilson

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Slowing Down "Rush": Russell Simmons on Building Hip Hop, Authenticity, and Finding Stillness

Russell Simmons is one of the few people that can honestly say he helped build hip hop. He was an entrepreneur early on, promoting parties and hustling fake cocaine when he was still a college student in the late 1970s. He was there one night at the Charles Gallery, when the headliner DJ Easy G brought on a local rapper, and Simmons felt Eddie Cheeba work the crowd into a frenzy.

It was his first real introduction to hip hop, and he could see that it would be more than just a passing fad. He went on to co-found the music label Def Jam Recordings with Rick Rubin and build a roster of hugely successful hip hop artists, starting with a teenage LL Cool J and the punk rock-turned-hip hop group The Beastie Boys. Simmons worked hard to build sustainable brands for his artists, and took pride in their authenticity. And he wasn't content to focus on music -- his ambition led him to create an empire, expanding into fashion, television, film, journalism, finance, and philanthropy.

Simmons' abundance of energy helped earn him the nickname "Rush", but he says he owes much of his success to inner tranquility and stillness. He's practiced yoga and meditation for over fifteen years, and in his book, Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple, Simmons seeks to demystify meditation for the average person, and explain its link to personal and professional growth.

He joins us to talk about the pivotal moment that he heard Eddie Cheeba and found himself sold on hip hop, building Def Jam, leaving drugs behind for yoga and meditation and finding inner stillness.

This interview originally aired in 2014.

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How We Decide What's Good... and What's Bad: Carl Wilson on Celine Dion and the Nature of Taste

Carl Wilson is a music critic. His job is to tell people why certain music is good, and why other music isn't. You could call him a tastemaker. But he started to wonder. How does taste even work? To find out, he immersed himself in the music, life and fandom of Celine Dion.

Wilson is the author of Let's Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste, a reissued and expanded version of the book he published in 2007. It's about Celine and her bestselling album from 1997, but more importantly it's an exploration of why we like some music and hate other music. Wilson's journey made him question how we place value on art, and has affected the way he approaches his work in music criticism.

He talks about Dion's Quebecois background (and why it matters), how she and her music relate to "coolness," and why experiencing a Celine Dion concert in Las Vegas helped open him up to her true appeal.

Looking for Rich Juzwiak's "Celine Dion is Amazing" compilation video mentioned in the interview? We'll save you a Google search.

This interview originally aired in 2014.

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The Outshot: East Side Story

You probably know what a low rider is. But what do you know about low rider oldies? Jesse talks about the perfect music for driving low and slow.

This segment originally aired in 2014.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Andy Daly & Jean Grae

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Andy Daly and "Review": Rating Life Experiences, from Addiction to Pancakes to the Prom

Comedian, actor and writer Andy Daly recognized early in his career that his audience was responding to him as a "nice, little boy". Who could blame them? He's a nice-looking guy, with an all-American charm about him. So he used his Howdy Doody look to his advantage, and began creating characters. The kind of characters that start off as unthreatening nice guys, and slowly escalate into extreme sociopaths.

Andy continues to use this element of surprise in his new Comedy Central show, Review. Andy plays Forrest MacNeil, who is a reviewer. But he doesn't review books, or movies, or consumer products. He reviews life experiences, rating them on a scale of one to five stars. In the first few episodes, he answers viewers' questions from "What would it feel like to steal?" to "Will prom really be the best night of my life?" to "What is it like to get a divorce?"

No life experience is too insignificant or too life-altering for Forrest MacNeil, who takes his job very seriously.

Andy joins us to talk about his first acting job (working with a rollerblading mime), developing his own style of comedy, and how he identifies with Forrest, who's devoted so much of his life and energy to his work.

Review is currently in its second season on Comedy Central

This interview originally aired February 25, 2014.

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Jean Grae on an Accidental Hip Hop Career

Rapper Jean Grae, formerly known as What? What?, has been a stalwart member of New York City's underground hip hop community for decades. She was born into a musical family, though she didn't exactly follow in her parents' footsteps. Her father, Abdullah Ibrahim (also known as Dollar Brand), helped to found South African Jazz and her mother, Sathima Bea Benjamin, was a gifted singer and composer. Grae was born in South Africa and her parents made sure she knew her roots -- but she was also a New Yorker, through and through.

She joins us this week to tell us about growing up with talented musicians as parents, her accidental hip hop career, and why she doesn't shy away from outrageous, cartoonish violence in her lyrics.

Jean Grae has had a busy couple of years. At the time we last spoke with her, she had a new LP called Gotham Down, a new EP called Jeannie, an audiobook entitled The State of Eh, and a webseries in which she writes, directs and stars, Life with Jeannie.

She's since released more new music, including the new EPs Saix and iSweaterGawd, all available on her Bandcamp page.

This interview originally aired January 28, 2014.

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The Outshot: Paul Anka on Showmanship

Paul Anka, a consummate entertainer with few peers, has very high standards. This week, Jesse shares what he dubs as one of the greatest after-show recordings of all time and reminds us to live and move with conviction. And to slice like a... well, you know.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: 'Playing House' & Hari Kondabolu

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Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham of Playing House: Improv in the Writers' Room, Showing Real Friendships on TV, and 'Girl Porn'

Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham play best friends on TV, and if their on-screen chemistry seems real, it is. They met doing improv comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and have been writing partners ever since. They co-created and star in Playing House, a sitcom about female friendship that's more reminiscent of Lucy and Ethel than it is Carrie Bradshaw's gang.

Playing House follows Emma and Maggie, two women who have been friends forever. Maggie stayed in their hometown, got married, and is expecting a baby. Emma has been professionally ambitious, closing business deals in Shanghai, and hasn't been back to visit for what must be years.

Parham and St. Clair join us to talk about the marathon improv sessions that produce the show's jokes, the designer home "girl porn" that provides contrast to their characters' weirdness, and their real-life friendship.

Playing House airs on the USA network Tuesday nights at 10/9c. It's now in its second season.

This interview originally aired April 29, 2014.

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Canonball with Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell: King Crimson’s 'In The Court of the Crimson King'

Every so often we like to take a closer look at albums that should be considered classics, to find out what makes them great. It's Canonball.

No one says The Rolling Stones don’t belong in the pop music canon. But what about Genesis? Or Yes? What about the prog rockers? The music wasn’t down and dirty, and the songs weren’t pop-radio short. Sometimes they were downright long. But prog has always had its loyalists.

This week Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell, the editors of the prog rock anthology Yes Is The Answer: (And Other Prog Rock Tales), explain why the King Crimson album In The Court of the Crimson King is a classic, and how it laid the foundation for a whole genre. They’ll explain how these classically trained musicians mixed flutes, horns, blues riffs, and synthesizers to create this face melting album.

Yes Is The Answer: (And Other Prog Rock Tales) is now available in paperback.

This segment originally aired June 10, 2014.

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Hari Kondabolu: 'Waiting for 2042' and Stand Up Comedy with Required Reading

Hari Kondabolu is a stand up comedian. You might have seen him on the late, great Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. He's also performed stand up on Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and The Late Show with David Letterman.

Hari didn't think he would be a comedian. He thought that he was going to law school. Then somewhere between taking an Americorps Job organizing immigrants in Seattle and taking the LSAT, things changed direction. He transitioned into stand-up comedy.

Hari talks to us about the unique profile of his fans, how he fits into the "alternative" comedy scene, and how he actually got into a discussion about the racism of Apu from The Simpsons with Hank Azaria -- the real voice of Apu.

His debut album, Waiting for 2042, is available through BandCamp and iTunes.

This interview originally aired July 22, 2014.

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The Outshot: The Everyday Wonder of 'American Splendor'

Jesse explains why Harvey Pekar makes putting one foot in front of the other feel like something special.

This segment originally aired July 22, 2014.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Judy Greer & Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces

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Judy Greer on Always Being the Co-Star and Midwestern Modesty

Judy Greer engages in fan-profiling. It sounds kind of sketchy, but before you get upset -- know that it's nothing bad. It's just a useful tool. Strangers stop her in the street, or at the airport, or in coffee shops all the time. It's always a variation on the same question... "What do I know you from?" And they won't let her go until she can help them solve the riddle.

She's an actress, so they probably know her from one of her many roles as "the best friend", in a movie like The Wedding Planner or Thirteen Going on Thirty. Or maybe they recognize her from her role as the slightly unhinged secretary Kitty Sanchez in Arrested Development. It could be any number of things, since Greer has almost a hundred credits on her IMDb page.

She rarely plays the lead, however, and so people often don't know her name.

Greer joins us this week to talk about love for the animated series Archer, the modest Midwestern roots that never allow her to turn down a role, and the freedom she finds in not being the leading lady -- and of course, she'll fan-profile our host, Jesse. Her book I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star is available now in paperback.

Greer co-stars in the FX series Married, which begins its second season this week.

This interview originally aired in May 2014.

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Ishmael Butler on the Short Life of Digable Planets and the Cosmic Hip Hop of Shabazz Palaces

In the early 1990s, the hip hop group Digable Planets broke through with their single "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)". The single was jazzy and laid-back, and became a crossover hit. The trio were pegged by some as a counterpoint to gangsta rap, but they didn't love the efforts to categorize their sound. They went further on their next boundary-pushing release, the classic record Blowout Comb. The album was critically acclaimed, but didn't sell well, and the group drifted apart shortly afterward.

Founding member Ishmael Butler was only in his mid 20s when Digable Planets broke up. And so he tried other things, like filmmaking. He still made music, but the releases were few and far between. A few years ago, he teamed up with Tendai Maraire to form a new group called Shabazz Palaces.

Shabazz Palaces' most recent release is called Lese Majesty, and it expands on their interstellar sound. Shabazz Palaces is playing shows and festivals across the U.S. this summer and fall.

Butler spoke to us about his days as a indie label gopher, the awkward audition Digable Planets had to endure for a record company executive, and the the transformative sounds of Shabazz Palaces.

This interview originally aired in August 2014.

The Outshot: Orson Welles and 'Touch of Evil'

Jesse explains why the last Hollywood picture Orson Welles directed, Touch of Evil, tells us so much about Welles as an artist.

This segment originally aired in August 2014.

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