Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Can You Dig It" In Records & Movies (1969-1979)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents examples of the sentence "Can you dig it?" in two record and two movies from 1969 t0 1979.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, etymological, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to those featured in the videos or soundfiles showcased in this post and thanks to the publishers of these examples on YouTube.

"Can you dig it" is from African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Depending on its context, in African American Vernacular English the word "dig" can mean "to understand", "to agree", "to like it", to enjoy it, or "to notice (check out) someone or something. Also, in African American slang (and I believe largely from that source in general American slang) "diggs" means "a person's home" and "a dig" is a taunt (an insult, a "diss").

It seems to me that the question "Can you dig it?" usually means "Do you understand [what I'm saying] or "Do you agree with what I'm saying?".

The African American use of the word "dig" meaning "understand" dates from the 1930s or earlier, but the documented use of the queestion "Can you dig it" is dates from the 1969 recording "Grazing In The Grass" by The Friends Of Distinction.

There are a number of theories about the origin of these slang meanings of the word "dig". I prefer the theory that the word comes from the Wolof [West African] word "degg; "dega" meaning "to hear", "to find out", "to understand". by jamueddhin on February 25th, 2008 for one comment article on this theory. But some people believe that this meaning of "dig" comes from the Irish Gaelic tuigim (I understand) or the Spanish words "digame" (Talk to me).

These examples are presented in chronological order based on the date of the usage, with the oldest dated examples given first.


VanessasRETROSOUL, Published on Dec 31, 2012
Lyric Excerpt:
"(Grazin' in the grass is a gas, baby, can you dig it)
What a trip just watchin' as the world goes past
(Grazin' in the grass is a gas, baby, can you dig it)
There are so many good things to see
While grazin' in the grass
(Grazin' in the grass is a gas, baby, can you dig it)....

I can dig it, he can dig it
She can dig it, we can dig it
They can dig it, you can dig it
Oh, let's dig it
Can you dig it, baby"
"Can you dig it" in The Friends Of Distinction's song "Grazing In The Grass" means "Do you like it?" or "Are you enjoying it?" and not "Do you understand it?"

Describing something as "a gas" is from 1920s Jazz lingo, and means that it is enjoyable, fun. “It’s A Gas”

Click for the complete lyrics to this song.
"Grazing in the Grass" is an instrumental composed by Philemon Hou and first recorded by the South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. Released in the United States as a single in 1968, it hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart....

The Friends of Distinction recorded a vocal cover version of the tune in 1969 which was also a Top Ten pop and R&B hit, reaching no. 3 on the former and no. 5 on the latter. The group's Harry Elston penned lyrics for the song and sang lead on it."

Example #2: The Beatles - Dig It (2009 Stereo Remaster)

A.A. Central Uploaded on Oct 5, 2009

From "Let It Be" (Stereo Remastered) from The Beatles Stereo Remastered Box Set.
" "Dig It" is a song by the Beatles featured on their album Let It Be. The song is credited to Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey. It is one of the few songs to be credited to all of the Beatles…
The excerpt on the Let It Be album fades in on Lennon's second "Like a rolling stone" and concludes with Lennon speaking in a falsetto: "That was 'Can You Dig It?' by Georgie Wood, and now we'd like to do 'Hark, the Angels Come'." The second sentence of that line is cut off in Let It Be's film recording of the jam session. ("Wee Georgie Wood" was a 4'9" music-hall performer and child star.)"
The Beatles'Let It Be Album was released in May 1970.

Example #3: Isaac Hayes: Shaft (High Quality)

John Hernandez Uploaded on Aug 28, 2010

Soundtrack Of Shaft in high quality, my favorite song of all time.
"Shaft is a 1971 American blaxploitation film directed by Gordon Parks, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. An action film with elements of film noir, Shaft tells the story of a private detective, John Shaft, who travels through Harlem and to the Italian mob neighborhoods in order to find the missing daughter of a mobster."

"Shaft" (also known as "The Theme From Shaft") is mostly an instrumental record. Here's an excerpt of the brief song that is sung by Issac Hayes with back-up singers:

“Who is the man
That would risk his neck for his brother man?
Can ya dig it?”...

They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother
(Shut your mouth)
But I'm talkin' 'bout Shaft
(Then we can dig it)

Source: click here
In my opinion, the meaning "I understand" or "We understand" would be incorrect for the usages of "can you dig it" in the song "Shaft". I think that the line "Can you dig it" in the song "Shaft" means "Do you like it?" [the fact that there is a Black private detective who will "risk his neck for his brother man" ; i.e. "other Black people"]. And I think that the line "Then we can dig it" means "Then we like it; or "Then we approve of what you are aying."

Example #4: The Warriors - Can You Dig It

John Johnson Uploaded on Aug 4, 2010
'Can you dig it' from The Warriors.[1979]
Here's my summary of the first part of this movie's Wikipedia page: The Warriors is a 1979 American cult action thriller drama film [about gangs fighting for their survival. The Warriors was adapted from a novel (itself adapted from the Ancient Greek text Anabasis by Xenophon), the film was adapted in 2005 as action figures and later in 2005 as a video game.
Quoting from that page:
My summary of this page:
“Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs, the most powerful gang in New York City, calls a midnight summit of all New York area gangs, requesting them to send nine unarmed delegates to Pelham Bay Park. The Warriors, from Coney Island, attend the summit and become the focus of the drama that unfolds. Cyrus proposes to the assembled crowd a permanent citywide truce that would allow the gangs to control the city. In the resulting chaos, Luther frames the Warriors leader Cleon for the murder, and he is beaten down by the Riffs. The other Warriors escape, unaware that they've been implicated in Cyrus' murder. The Riffs put out a hit on the Warriors through a radio DJ. Swan, the Warriors' "war chief", takes charge of the group as they try to make it back home”...

Click for a footstomping cheer entitled "Can You Dig It" that my daughter collected from African American girls (ages 7-12 years old) at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania summer camp in the mid 1980s.

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