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.
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.