Confession: the Digable Planets were one of my favorite rap acts ever. Those radical hip-hop griots with the jazzy sound were not only a slick ’90s version of Gil Scott but were everything I thought hip-hop could be. Therefore, Cherrywine, headed up by Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, was cursed and blessed, in my mind, with releasing Bright Black. There just was no way I was going to like it as much as I loved the DPs, and there was even less of a chance that I would despise it.
In Cherrywine, Butler has gotten rid of all his slickness. He has also forsaken the jazz that marked the Planets’ sound. So, you won’t be hearing any cool-ass Bobbi Humphrey samples. The left-wing politics have also been deported (I blame the Patriot Act).
Butler, having taught himself to play guitar and keys, has refashioned himself a crypto-funkster. Bright Black feels more like a dilettante pimp’s ode to Bootsy or Outkast (or, perhaps, Cee-Lo). In fact, with Butler’s conversational cadence, this album does, at times, feel disturbingly like something the ATLiens may have produced. All he’s really missing is that Southern twang. But the music is just as raw and quirky and almost as enjoyable. With the polemics gone, Butler is missing the incisive content that his former group had and just talks about the same tripe that any other R&B act prattles on about. And there isn’t really a song here that packs a serious punch. No jam, no anthem to cling to. But, as an overall experience, this CD is an enjoyable ride with a few exceptional moments. It’s neither a mind-blowing nor mind-numbing experience. Yes, there will be a bit of disappointment, but you can admire the change of direction, the reachin’ for new directions that Butler touches upon.