Ish (aka Butterfly) was always the most respected member (and leader) of the group Digable Planets. The early 90’s single Cool Like That helped to make their debut LP Reachin (A New Refutation Of Time & Space) a major success that even won them a Grammy. With some criticism directed at them for being soft or weird (due to calling themselves insects), Planets took a whole different approach to their 2nd album. Blowout Comb was a militant and pro-black album filled with hardcore beats, deep funk, and aggressive lyrics. They battled the devil for while. While sales did not match (or even come close) to the Reachin LP, Blowout Comb was loved by many critics and hardcore fans.
Still, the demise of Digable Planets was inevitable. Doodlebug released an LP that was practically ignored by some. It was so limited and underground that many people never knew it existed. Through the years, rumors kept on circulating that Ish was signed to a label and his album was in the works. Many labels boasted this and many songs were recorded but fans never got to hear them.
Almost 10 years later, Ishmael returns and he brought a whole new sound and a whole band. Cherrywine is Ish’s band from Seattle. Ish sings, raps, and even plays guitar. Released through D-Cide Records and Babygrande Records, Bright Black is an interesting album. While many emcees go solo and start singing, Ish’s singing has more of a rap style than others who went this route (i.e. John Forte, Cee-Lo, Q-Tip). Fans of Digable Planets must listen to this with an open mind. The jazz is gone. The pro-black militant stance of protest and activism is buried deep in the background while Butterfly sings songs about women, cocaine, and relationships. Bright Black is an entertaining LP with style and an overall cool feeling. While it is hip-hop influenced, it is not truly a hip-hop record.
The best songs are the ones that instantly hit the listener with that same vibe and feeling that we all love from Ish’s work. The opening track What I’m Talking has groovy electro-synth funk and precise wah-wah guitar work. Ishmael chants/sings a simple but effective hook: ”Come in the place and trip / That’s what I’m talking about / Cherrywine taste, n*gga! / That’s what I’m talking about”
Automatically, fans realize that this is not the same Ish from Digable Planets. Lyrically, he has changed. His lyrics are less focused on details, vivid descriptions and stories and are much more universal. He’s abstract but also direct. While Digable Planets were rapping about insects, jazz, swoon units, and spiddyocks, Cherrywine is rapping about women, money, and that high we feel from music (…and other things). Ish sings/raps: ” I go to the church, get my soul / Go to my cousin, get me doe / I go to the mirror and get my love / I go to my woman and that’s my drug” It is the energy, the delivery, and the confidence that makes the song just so cool. Dazzlement is an incredible song that has the same energy and flamboyance as the classic Digable Planets track Dial 7. While it is much more loose and not as expensive sounding, Dazzlement does dazzle the listener. The drum traps and the weird keyboard melodies all come together with some amazing funky guitar work by Thaddeus Turner. Once again, we hear a different Butterfly. We hear him say phrases like ‘bitches in hot cars’, ‘it’s gangsta’ and ‘thugged out’. Still, the energy and vibe is exquisite. The song is like a soundtrack for a pimp. The macked-out vibe will make anybody feel cool.
Ish truly is doing something different while using various influences. Ish raps, ‘I’m all about my music but my style is all my own.’ He’s right. By eliminating typical song structure and his Digable Planets’ persona, Ish has become an individual. Dazzlement is one of the best tracks on the LP.
So Glad For Baby is a very cool pimped-out love song that has a strong Curtis Mayfield influence. Lyrically, Ishmael discovers the positive aspects of being away from his love. ”Missing you is good because I get to thinking bout you! / Kissing you is so wild cuz I don’t know a thing about you /’/ I got a Cadillac parked in a street in New York / And I don’t believe half of the shit I talk / But I love it and I mean, you can see it when I walk / So come on girl, and give me a kiss / I’m so glad! / I’m so glad that you like this” Thaddeus Turner’s swirling guitar work is not only overflowing with thick grooves but also has a hypnotizing quality. Structurally, So Glad For Baby is one of the tightest songs on the LP.
Once again, Ish surprises us with an acoustic song called All I Can Do. This short and sweet track (a minute and 28 seconds long) is a beautiful and poignant little song that still has a hip-hop edge to it. ”I’m a grown man / Waiting for this world to / Tap me on my shoulder / Tell me that I’m big and make me rich” Ish shows his vulnerability and sensitive side while maintaining his manhood and hip-hop outlook. Gracefully is a pure love song about making love and relationships. The wah-wah guitar is both elegant and funky. Ish sings well and also rocks a confident and romantic hook.
Some songs must be appreciated because they are both lyrically and musically interesting. See For Miles has Ish stating ‘cocaine’s coming’ over and over again. While the song is not only about marriage and relationships, the word ‘cocaine’ plays such an important role. Ish is talking about the drug but uses it as a metaphor for the traps we are in and the many different feelings that are associated with the drug. Excess, pleasure, stress, love, hate, and many emotions are all swirled together in this maelstrom of a song. Since a variety of intense emotions are associated with the drug, there are a variety of instruments and melodies flowing throughout the song. The phonetics of the word ‘cocaine’ also plays a role in the overall feeling of the song. Feelings of desires, wants, and needs are expressed. The weird synths, light handclaps, and other programming add the hypnotic effect of the song. Thaddeus Turner’s guitar work is buried in the background as it adds to the musical layers.
There is no formal structure to the track. Clocking in at around 6 minutes long, See For Miles may annoy some people who do not understand what Ish is trying to do with the song.
Anchorman Blues is a much more straightforward but very interesting track since Ish sings about situations where he has to lie to his loved ones. “…I had to lie to you, because the truth would cause you so much pain / I had to lie to you, and I’m a probably have to do it again /I had to lie to you, to make the situation turn out better /I had to lie so me and you could still walk off in the sunset together…” Lyrically, we see another vulnerable yet mischievous side to Ishmael. The light electronic drums do not directly lead the track; Ish’s voice and Thaddeus Turner’s guitar take the steering wheel. There is even a cool voice-box (reminiscent of Roger Troutman & Zapp) that is perfectly buried in the background. Anchorman Blues is one of the album’s standout tracks.
Other songs all fit into the Cherrywine mode but do not leave as strong of an impression as the others. Still, the repetition of many of the lines in the hooks and the verses give the songs a catchy quality. A Street Gospel has Ish repeating ”It’s a special thang when you get down…’ The keyboards give the track a very unique sound and the drumbeats are filled with handclaps and other forms of odd percussion. Girlcrazy (My Cream Gets It Done) has a Southern double-time beat and some groovy synths and guitar work. Sleep Pretty Girl is somewhat like a filler track but the cool keyboard melodies and Ish’s weird and arrogant verses make this an entertaining track. American Drip is another odd track with a wild double-time tempo and weird robotic melodies and rhythms. Even Ish’s delivery has a somewhat robotic quality in his verses.
Bright Black by Cherrywine is a very entertaining album that deals with a vibe, a feeling, a high, and soul. It is much more accessible than anything that Digable Planets ever released due to the fact that Ish is singing about money, drugs, women, and sex. Ish is on a musical high (and maybe even a drug high).
Some Digable Planets fans may be upset that the jazz is gone and the activism and pro-black militant stance is absent. Basically, if you were open-minded enough to love Digable Planets, you should be open-minded enough for Cherrywine. While many emcees who start singing have a certain sound according to their residence, Cherrywine’s sound is much more universal. While Cee-Lo sounds like a Southern artist and Lauryn Hill sounds like an East Coast artist, Ish grew up in New York but moved to Seattle (and recorded the LP there).
Cherrywine do not sound Southern, West Coast, or East Coast. They make a sound all their own. Bright Black does not have straightforward pop songs or straightforward rap songs. They have attempted to create a unique and original sound using many different influences and styles ranging from electro-funk, disco, hip-hop, and even acoustic guitar music. Ishmael Butler is a very talented artist and his band truly fuels the creativity. Still, this album does not have stories or vivid scenes. Although many times, some people may not know what he’s singing about, his lyrics are much more accessible than anything he wrote in Digable Planets. Basically, the macked-out 70’s intelligent pimp style that I loved in Blowout Comb is flowing strong on Bright Black. Without guests and little filler, Cherrywine has done something original and different. The only way to describe ‘Bright Black’ by Cherrywine is that the album is just so damn’ cool. Get high, get drunk, and let the sweet Cherrywine flow.
Bright Black (2003)
Genre: Hip Hop
Record Label: Cnr