Ladybug Mecca of Digable Planets appears on The Nostalgia Mixtape, hosted by Sama’an Ashrawi.
The Ladybug Mecca Episode
Ladybug Mecca aka Santos Vieira, one-third of legendary rap group Digable Planets, one-whole of herself, joins The Nostalgia Mixtape to talk about the smoothest band of all-time: The Doobie Brothers. Ladybug will never forget when, in her childhood, The Doobies appeared on an episode of the 1970s sitcom What’s Happening!! to teach Rerun, Raj, Dee, and Dwayne a lesson about bootlegging.
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Sama’an Ashrawi: Hey everybody, this is Sama’an Ashrawi. Welcome to another episode of The Nostalgia Mixtape. The song you just heard is “Black Water” by the Doobie Brothers, and here to talk about that song and how it relates to her memories is Ms. Ladybug Mecca. But first… I met Ladybug in New York City in Manhattan. We had started following each other on Instagram because we had a mutual fan, I guess you could say, in Ana Tijoux who is a big-time rapper in South America. She’s like the… Kendrick Lamar of South America. That’s the best comp I can give. Ana had posted a few pictures of me on her Instagram and Ladybug followed me and I freaked out! Because I love Digable Planets and Ladybug has always been one of my favorite rappers. So we’d been following each other for a little bit and when I was coming to New York I saw she posted a flyer from some event she was gonna be at. I messaged her and she was like, “Yeah! Come meet me at the thing.” And so I came and met up with her. It was the west side, I think maybe it was like in Chelsea somewhere. We met up. It was a whatever event, it was a cool space, but she wanted to hang out with me more afterwards so we walked out of the event and just kind of strolled around west side Manhattan for a little bit and it was interesting how quickly we opened up to one another. There was just kind of this mutual trust that was already there when we first met. Because of that, I knew that this was gonna be someone that I was gonna want to be friends with for… hopefully the rest of my life! So far that’s been pretty true. We’re there for each other as friends as, we talk pretty regularly; last time Ladybug called me she talked to my parents I think longer than she talked to me, and that’s really cool. So now she’s got a hot meal waiting for her in Houston, Texas, any time she comes through! And the song (“Black Water”) also relates to my parents too because my mom is the person who got me into the Doobie Brothers, so, it’s cool that Ladybug’s song is also one of my favorite Doobie Brothers songs. So, let’s let her introduce herself.
“68 inches above sea level, 93 million miles above these devils” — Ladybug Mecca.
Ladybug Mecca: Hey everybody, this is Mecca aka Ladybug from Digable Planets aka Santos Vieira. I am from everywhere, actually, the universe, the multiverse [laughs] and some good news I have is that I discovered an incredibly delicious Palestinian restaurant about 45 minutes away from my house and I’m like so thrilled about that. Yessss! Fresshhh! Mmmmm.
Sama’an: And you love driving.
Ladybug: And I love driving so it’s like, how perfect? Thank you, Universe. Like, wow.
Sama’an: And what are we going to be talking about today?
Ladybug: We’re gonna be talking about the Doobie Brothers on What’s Happening!!
Sama’an: [whispers] Damn!
Ladybug: And their…. Well, I’m not gonna give it away, so.
Sama’an: Okay don’t give it away.
Rerun, Roger (“Raj”), and Dwayne of What’s Happening!! Not pictured: Shirley and Dee.
Sama’an: Why was that the first thing… when I told you I was listening to the Doobie Brothers, why was that the first thing that popped in your head? To tell me to find that episode.
Ladybug: That’s a good question. I think because the episode kind of connected me with a fearful emotion. I think that’s why it stood out.
Sama’an: There’s some scary stuff, if you’re a kid…
Ladybug: If you’re a kid, you know I was like…
Sama’an: You were probably like eight years old, or five years old, when it came out.
Ladybug: I was young… Yeah, so, I don’t know. It was definitely something that was regularly watched in my household growing up.
Sama’an: And then why are the Doobie Brothers so catchy? What is it? Like, why?
Ladybug: [laughs] Ya know what, they’re just really great writers and melody makers. They have what it takes. They know.
Sama’an: I feel like that episode, when you told me about it, I was at work, and you were like, “What are you doing right now?” And I was like, “Well, it’s Doobie Brothers hour at the office,” and you were like, “You gotta go to YouTube right now and find the episode of them on What’s Happening!!” And for a second I was like, “There’s no way the Doobie Brothers were on What’s Happening? It’s like two totally different worlds.”
Ladybug: But their music was like pretty soulful, too, so it wasn’t a surprise.
Sama’an: True, it wouldn’t be like Lynyrd Skynyrd being on What’s Happening!!
Sama’an: That’s true. Just cool that those worlds meshed together.
Sama’an: In the episode, I took some notes last night, I really relate to Raj’s character because he is basically like a high school journalist. It’s kind of like the Almost Famous, William Miller story but like 20 years before that movie came out. Where he’s like trying to get an interview with the Doobie Brothers so he can get tickets to the show…
Sama’an: … and Dee ends up being the one who makes it happen because Dee is like the boss of the group. But that’s how I made a lot of my early connections, that’s a big part of the reason why I’m at where I’m at.
Sama’an: But I want you to tell me everything you can remember from the episode.
Ladybug: I’ll tell you what stood out for me: the first thing I thought about when you mentioned “Doobie Brothers” was the feeling that I had when watching that episode. You know, I was young, so, just the element where they were gonna do this really sneaky, wrong thing. You know?
Ladybug: I was scared for them. I remember not wanting them to go to jail. You know, just really scared for them. That’s what stood out the most. Aside from the music was incredible.
Sama’an: So if you haven’t seen the episode, basically, the plotline is: this notorious bootlegger approaches Rerun… Rerun wasn’t able to get tickets to the [Doobie Brothers] concert, so the bootlegger is like, “Yo, I got three front row seats to the Doobie Brothers show, all I need you to do is make a recording of the show for me.” He cons Rerun into basically thinking that what he’s doing is not illegal, and what ends up happening is: Raj gets the interview, thanks to Dee, and they meet the Doobie Brothers at soundcheck, and in Raj’s interview, he’s like, “what’s one of your biggest pet peeves?” And the Doobie Brothers are like: “Bootleggers! We hate when people bootleg our recordings!” And the look on Rerun’s face is like, “Uhhhh…” [laughs]
Ladybug: Okay, you’re jujjing [editor’s note: can we get a spell check on that?] up my memory. I remember that. And I think that also fed into like… “Oh my god! What they’re doing is so wrong!”
Sama’an: So they end up doing the recording anyway, and the Doobie Brothers do like an extended performance, like, I don’t know what version of that aired originally back in the day, but they do like two or three songs live at the show. I don’t know if that was like normal for TV back in the day, but that seems pretty….
Ladybug: Yeah I can’t think of any other show back then that did something like that. Yeah, they did play a few songs, I don’t remember which ones, but yeah.
Sama’an: And the way the episode ends is…
Ladybug: They get caught, right? It falls out? I forget. [editor’s note: Ladybug was right, Rerun’s tape recorder falls out of his shirt.]
Sama’an: They confess to the Doobie Brothers. They’re like, we gotta be honest with you, this guy approached us. And [the Doobie Brothers] are like, “Was that guy’s name Alan?” And Rerun’s like, “Yeah, how do you know him?” And they were like, “He bootlegged like three of our shows on this tour. We’ve been trying to catch him.”
Sama’an: SO Raj and Dwayne and Rerun and Dee all conspire with the Doobie Brothers to set up Alan at the diner that they always go to. So they meet up with Alan at the diner and they’re like raving on and on about the show and Alan’s like, “Man just gimme the tape, I gotta get outta here.” They’re basically like stalling and right when Alan gets the tape, he tries to walk out, and like Michael McDonald is behind one door, and so he runs to the other door and Patrick Simmons is at the other door, so they corner him, and they catch him, and of course what happens? They play the tape back in the diner and all you can hear is Rerun just eating popcorn through the whole show.
Ladybug: I forgot about that part, that’s hilarious though.
Sama’an: And we find out, I don’t know if this is true or not, that Patrick Simmons, the lead singer, in the episode he says he went to the same high school as the kids in the show. Which I guess is, they don’t say it explicitly, is Watts High School. I don’t know if that was true or if they just did it for the episode. I just love that those worlds came together and I only found out about it because of you. I might have gone my whole life not knowing that the Doobie Brothers were on What’s Happening!! [editor’s note: wow I’m a dummy, Raj states pretty clearly that they attend Jefferson High School, and that he writes for the Jefferson High Gazette]
Ladybug: Always happy to help.
Mama Mabel, Dee, Raj, Shirley, and Rerun on the set of What’s Happening!!
Sama’an: Help me paint a picture of your, around that age… You were talking about, there was some game y’all used to play that was like a crazy version of hide and seek?
Sama’an: I never played that game, can you break that down for me? [laughs]
Ladybug: Yeah, it was just like, you know, in the summertime. Kids in the neighborhood, we would always start when it got dark…
Ladybug Mecca’s hometown.
Sama’an: Where is this?
Ladybug: This is in Maryland, Silver Spring. I lived in some garden type apartments is what they were called. They were maybe like two and three stories high, tops. Like a whole community of them. And so, a lot of kids, of course. We were at the pool all day, chillin, and then night time comes and we’d just split up into two teams; one team would go and hide wherever they could in the neighborhood. Rooftops, like crazy.
Sama’an: This is like super spread out, this is not like hide and seek in one house or one apartment.
Ladybug: SUPER spread out. Like a couple acres of land, you know? And it’s night, and there’s not like a whole lotta light. It usually took a really looooong time [laughs] IF they ever found every person from the other crew before it was time to come inside. Your parents would come out and be calling your name in the darkness. But yeah, that’s Manhunt.
Sama’an: That sounds amazing because I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of big trees, so I kind of felt like I grew up in this jungle kingdom. So as soon as I got my bike, I could explore that world. I really felt like I was growing up in a forest.
Ladybug: My bike was a big deal for me too, actually, my mother gave me her 10-speed bike. I remember it was like powder blue. Big ol’ thin wheels. And I used to just ride eeeeverywhere. Everywhere. I would go for miles. I would ride up New Hampshire Avenue, which is like a main avenue, but it had a sidewalk the whole way. I’d be out. I just like to travel, it just gives me inspiration and it’s like an adventure. It was like an adventure for me to go and explore the world beyond my neighborhood.
Sama’an:How old were when you got that bike?
Ladybug: I think I was like 10. Something like that.
Sama’an: That’s a great time to get a bike. Like the world seems so…
Ladybug: I mean, I had bikes before then.
Sama’an: Oh. Okay. But that was the one.
Ladybug: But thaaaat. Yeah. I wasn’t riding regularly, but when I got that. I also felt like an adult because it was like a 10-speed.
Ladybug Mecca of Digable Planets appears on The Nostalgia Mixtape podcast hosted by Sama’an Ashrawi.
Young Ladybug Mecca on her middle school basketball team.
Sama’an: Were you watching What’s Happening!! on a color TV? Black and white?
Ladybug: Color. Yeah it was color.
Sama’an: Did it have a dial on it? Bunny ears?
Ladybug: Yeah we definitely had the antenna that you put on top of the TV and hook the wires into the back, so metal hits on metal, and sometimes you have to add foil to it to like get a better… Yeah. Mhm. That.
Sama’an: What time would What’s Happening!! come on? Would it be right after school? At night?
Ladybug: I think it was like early evening. I’m pretty sure. Yeah.
Sama’an: And what else were you watching at that time?
Ladybug: There were more, I can’t remember them all though.
Ladybug: Yeah, I liked The Smurfs [laughs] and Transformers. Definitely Transformers.
Ladybug: Thundercats, that was actually my number one. I used to watch that– I believe it came on in the morning before school when I would eat cereal in my bowl before I had to go out to the bus stop.
Sama’an: What was your go-to cereal?
Ladybug: Anything. All of it. Sugar. That’s all that mattered.
Sama’an: Okay so you had a powder-blue 10-speed bike, you were watching TV with the bunny ears, in Maryland. Tell me what kind of extracurriculars you did, did you play sports?
Ladybug: Yeah, I started playing soccer in third grade, and I played all the way through 10th grade. I stopped after that because we had moved to another town really far away and I was protesting, so I wouldn’t do anything. I wouldn’t go to school– I mean I would “go to school,” but I would leave through the front door and climb back in my window and go to sleep.
Ladybug: And then I was failing so I was like, “Fuck, I don’t wanna be stuck here longer,” so I started going to school. [laughs] But I asked to get transferred out of that particular school because it was in this town — it was a really strange town. It was some kinda experimental town — and the school had no walls. Like [no] floor-to-ceiling walls, just dividers, so you could hear everything and it was such a distraction. And it didn’t have a lot of windows, which really bothered me, so I wrote to the board of education and asked to be transferred, and they let me go to this other school the next town over, more like a standard high school brick building like the one I came from. So that was cool. It was an interesting senior year.
Sama’an: When did you first start, let’s say around the time you saw this episode of What’s Happening!! did you already have records in your possession? Or had you already bought your first record?
Ladybug: Oh no, I started buying records in Silver Spring, Maryland, in those same garden apartments because we were walking distance from a shopping center, and there was a record store called Waxie Maxie’s that I used to go to regularly. Every time I had money I would buy little 45s and then cassette tapes and it got to a point where I would make my own mixtapes of songs that I liked. I was kind of an asshole, I had to control the radio or stereo no matter where I was. If I was in someone’s car or house, I would have to take over.
Sama’an: You can’t let someone play bad music, it’s not worth it.
Ladybug: No, I can’t. And don’t sing the song out-loud and get the words wrong? Come on. It’s a problem.
Ladybug: You know what’s so funny though? My son is like that. And I’m like, “Can I just sing this?” But I was totally like that!
Sama’an: My best friend growing up, he would love the song so much, but he would never get the words right! I’m like, “Dude, how many times are we gonna listen to this song…”
Ladybug: No but my son hates when I sing the songs.
Ladybug: He’s like [how I was], he’s like, “Can you not?”
Ladybug: And you know I get frustrated in the car, like, I wanna sing this song! I love it!
Sama’an: You wanna sing that “What A Fool Believes.” What a fool belieeeeves… Nah I’m not gonna do it. [laughs]
Sama’an: What kind of records were you buying at that time?
Ladybug: Mmm. The Beatles, “I Want To Hold Your Hand;”Jackson 5 stuff; I would also, like the cassette tapes that I would make would have like Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew, “La Di Da Di,” a lot of Hip Hop because my boy– we went to the same church, our families went to the same baptist church — he had family in New York City. He would visit family and record Kool DJ Red Alert’s radio show on Kiss FM and bring it down.
Ladybug: So I would have access to all the Hip Hop. In D.C. / Maryland, it was mostly Go-Go, so I would use that and make my own mixtapes and stuff. That was like a big deal for me.
Sama’an:Was your family listening to mainly Brazilian music? Or were they into the American stuff too?
Ladybug: Both. Definitely both. As my parents– My father was here since he was fifteen so I think he was more knowledgeable of American music than my mother was when they met. Yeah, definitely a lot of Samba, a lot of Bossa Nova, but then my mother really loved Earth Wind and Fire, Jackson 5, Michael Jackson of course, Stevie Wonder, a lot of Brazilian jazz records. A little bit of everything. Yes.
Sama’an: Do you think you got your Doobie Brothers love from your parents? Or is that something you did on your own?
Ladybug: Nah that’s all me. Yeah that’s all me.
Ladybug:Certain songs, the kind that just hit you right here, and it’s just undeniable. You know?
Sama’an: That’s Michael McDonald. Oh yeah. Every time.
Ladybug: It’s a trip with music because you could be in a happy place and then you hear a sad song and it makes you sad, and you probably didn’t realize that you needed to emote that sadness for some reason. Something that was sitting inside of you, you know?
Sama’an: I think the reason why– I think I cried more the last two years than I ever have in my whole life.
Ladybug: Me toooo! [whispers] Yo, meee tooo!
Ladybug: I am not a cryer, dude. I’ve been through some shit, and I just like… I’m not a cryer. But like the last year and a half? Yeah, man.
Sama’an: And music always triggers it for me.
Ladybug: Mm. Oh. For sure. And over the years, music was the only thing that would trigger it.
Ladybug: If I ever [cried]. Definitely.
Sama’an: I’ll tell [my] story if you have one, but do you remember the first song that made you cry?
Ladybug: Ooohhh. You know, this is gonna be so stupid. [laughs] I had a dog, right? We lived in a garden apartment so you weren’t allowed to have pets. But I had a little tea cup poodle. So cute. His name was Snowball. He was a little puppy, he was tiny, he was so cute. Some neighbor found out and told on us and so I had to give my puppy away. So I would mark in my closet all the days that we were apart. And before I gave him away I would sing, um, so stupid, oh my god, what’s the name of the group? I don’t wanna sing it and play myself. I don’t know if you’ll know the record but it was like, “Girl you are to meee…”
Jasmine Chen: “Always!”
Ladybug: Yeah, it’s so crazyyy!
Ladybug: You know but it was for my dog.
Sama’an: How old were you then?
Ladybug: I don’t know. Umm. I was…. Probably like maybe twelve, I wanna say. So this was all happening at the same time.
Sama’an: Okay, the first song that made me cry, I was not twelve. This is not any less embarrassing, this is probably just as embarrassing ummm because it’s a John Mayer song? [laughs]
Ladybug: [laughs] OKAY.
Sama’an: Ummm okay. He has this song called “Stop This Train,” and the lyrics are like… I was the perfect age to hear this song. It was my first semester of college, it was the first weekend I had gone back to visit my parents. I was driving distance, maybe three hours. I’m driving back late at night, and this song comes on shuffle, and the lyrics are straight up like, I thought he was speaking like– I thought he knew my life and wrote a song about it. It’s about how his dad is old, and my dad was old at the time– well, my dad’s always been older than my friends’ dads. The lyrics are, “So scared of getting older, I’m only good at being young…” I was like, “Oh my god, this is me.” But the part that got me was, he has this verse about talking to his dad about getting older, and his dad is like, “When you turn sixty-eight / you’ll renegotiate / don’t stop this train…” His dad is basically saying, “No one ever figures it out, we just get older, but that’s no reason to stop what you’re doing.” That’s always been what my dad has told me, like, my dad’s sixty-eight right now, so I also cried to that song recently [laughs] because he’s the same age as John’s dad in the song. I remember just like driving in the middle of nowhere in Texas and that song coming on and I just– pfff… Waterworks. Done. I was done.
Ladybug: “Golden Lady” by Stevie Wonder always does that to me too because that was the song I used to — [panting] you gon’ make me cry — that I used to sing to my mom when she was passing away.
Sama’an: Awww you can talk about it, it’s okay.
Ladybug: Stop it. Stop. Stop saying “aww” you’re making it worse! [laughs] I used to wheel her out into the sunshine… It was a good time.
Sama’an: Yeah. Sometimes music makes you cry happy tears too.
Jasmine: Do you need a kleenex?
Ladybug: Nah don’t worry about it, keep going.
Sama’an: We can get some tissues in here and we can just cry for an hour together.
Ladybug: Okay! Very therapeutic.
Sama’an: Yeah I was like eighteen, so I wasn’t twelve. But then the full circle moment with the Doobie Brothers, to go back to our original point… My parents had when I was young what I thought was like a small record collection. It was maybe like a dozen records that I remember from high school age. One of them was the Doobie Brothers’ album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits and that’s the album that “Black Water” is on. What was really cool was, like, two years ago, this is 2015 / early 2016 — this would be maybe ten years after I discovered my parents’ record collection — I discovered more records hidden in our house. So what I thought was just like a dozen or so records was like forty or fifty.
Ladybug: Woah. What was in there?
Sama’an: What was crazy was that, based on the music my parents played for me as a kid… the music I ended up falling in love with from their era, so many of those albums were in that record collection, but I had discovered them on my own. It was really amazing that I ended up falling in love with the same albums my parents fell in love with, but without them showing– you know what I mean?
Sama’an: So when I started flipping through, I was like, “That one and that one?! I love this one and this one!” It was a lot of jazz and blues, like Ahmad Jamal, BB King, Chet Baker…
Ladybug: Why do you think it was tucked away in a box?
Sama’an: I don’t know!
Ladybug: They probably just forgot about it, got busy with life, and…
Sama’an: Anyway, that’s my bringing-the-Doobie-Brothers-back-around… I think I’ll always associate them more with my mom than with my dad. My mom loves the Doobie Brothers so much.
Sama’an: Thank you for bringing this episode into my life. This is like now gonna be… I will take this with me for the rest of my life and show it to my friends and stuff. And my parents probably too!
Ladybug: You didn’t tell them about it yet?
Sama’an: I haven’t told ‘em about it yet. I’m waiting ‘til the next time I go home.
Ladybug: Let me know if they saw it. I’m just curious.
Sama’an: It’s interesting, my dad has ended up like… he never really watched American TV growing up, so I’ve had to go back and show him stuff. One show that I never thought he would get into is Atlanta.
Ladybug: Such a good show!
Sama’an: He’s obsessed with Atlanta.
Ladybug: That’s a trip! What does he like about it?
Sama’an: My theory is… when he came to the States he was like broke as hell, and I think he relates to Donald Glover’s character because in the show Donald Glover’s character is broke for pretty much the whole first season. The part he really responded to was, can’t remember if it’s the last episode of the season, but, when Donald goes and sleeps in the storage unit. I don’t think my dad ever slept in a storage unit, but he slept in some pretty…
Ladybug: He struggled.
Sama’an: Struggle apartments.
Ladybug: Oh me too, man. [laughs]
Sama’an: I think he just relates to like… Donald’s broke-ness, but also his resilience.
Ladybug: Coool! Tell pops I said what up. Tell him I said, “Yallaaa!”
Sama’an: You still gotta talk to him!
Ladybug: I will!
Sama’an: Do like a debrief with him.
Ladybug: I will.
Sama’an: He will really, really, enjoy that.
Ladybug: Will do. Yes sir.
Sama’an: Thanks for being on.
Ladybug: You’re welcome.
Sama’an: Okay, I’m only a little embarrassed that John Mayer makes me cry, but I feel like I’m not alone in this John Mayer Cry Club. So [laughs] I’ll take a little bit of solace in that. How cool to hear Ladybug’s story about growing up watching What’s Happening!! But then also life in Maryland, and her powder-blue bike, and her pet dog, and her favorite record shop. She painted just a really warm and sunny view of her youth. I think I had kinda the same — except I think I got into more trouble than she did, so, we’ll save that for a different podcast. But yeah! So cool to hear from Ladybug, and love that we got to talk about the Doobie Brothers, I’ll take any chance I can get to talk about Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins and the Doobie Brothers and any of my Yacht Rock heroes. We’ll try to get Michael McDonald on the next one. [laughs] Thanks for tuning in, y’all, this has been another episode of The Nostalgia Mixtape, this podcast is hosted as always by me, Sama’an Ashrawi, and produced by Jason Crow. AND this episode was recorded by Jasmine Chen. Catch y’all next time.
Ladybug’s new group, Brookzill! A blend of hip hop and Brazilian music.
Bless your ears with the official companion playlist for Ladybug Mecca’s Nostalgia Mixtape. Listen on Spotify,Apple Music, and Tidal.