By - Jul 1st, 2003 02:52 pm
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By Michael Seidel

Bright Black marks Ishmael Butler’s emergence from musical hibernation. Butler used to lead Digable Planets – most known for the top 10 hit “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)”, who released two stunning albums before snuffing itself out in 1996.

That’s when Butler crawled into a cave of obscurity, shielded from even the wannest sliver of spotlight. He learned how to play guitar.

Digable Planets’ sound was a highball of laid back jazz samples and lyrics so silkily delivered that, outwardly, their political slant appeared as an undercurrent. But any move beyond lyrical veneer will illume activism – black power, pro-choice, etc – as quintessentially Digable. It’s what they were all about.

With Cherrywine, however, Butler rails against political expression. In Resonance magazine, Butler recently admitted, “It’s not that I didn’t believe what I was saying back then – it’s just that I wasn’t really being politically active in my own life. Now, I’m just trying to do something that represents who I am. I want to be more real.”

So I guess that cocaine, bitches and gansta are the real Butler. References to those things stand in tall banks on the surface of every song. Machismo thematics and delivery expose such a deep political bankruptcy that I can’t help but wonder if it’s all, despite Butler’s contentions, cunningly masked social commentary. The departure from the Digables’ message is so unrealistically sharp that it must be tongue-in-cheek.

Political intentions aside, it would be foolish to say that Butler’s lost his flow. His delivery is as slick as ever. The music is devoid of samples; it’s raw, organic, wah-wah infused funk that bores itself into your consciousness and takes unrelenting hold.

Bright Black is excellent debut album, but still, I can’t stop myself from questioning its sincerity.

DCide Records

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