My Favourite Artists :: Ishmael Butler (Digable Planets/Shabazz Palaces/Cherry Wine)
I First discovered … Ishmael when his group, Digable Planets, dropped the now classic “Rebirth Of Slick (Cool like dat)” back in 1992. I was 15 years old. I’ve always had a soft spot for rappers that have a smooth flow - my favourite emcee is Slick Rick - and rep’ for the east coast so it was inevitable I’d be hooked by the Digable sound.
I realised I was a fan … when Digable Planets released Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space). It had everything I look for in a hip-hop album, it was fresh yet classic sounding, and Ishmael shone throughout the album - that’s in no way a slight against Doodlebug or Lady Mecca - and my 15 year old self would regularly be found rewinding the tape over and over so I could learn his rhymes by heart.
The high point for me as a fan … is seeing how much love Ish is getting for Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up album, an album that many of you will know I adore. For me, it’s like seeing your football team win the Champions League. What makes it even sweeter is the fact that he’s been on the scene for roughly 20 years, and I’ve followed his career every step of the way.
The low point for me as a fan … is the fact that I’ll probably never get to hear his unreleased solo album - Ishmael Since 1999 - an album that has become my musical Holy Grail. It also sucks that the Cherry Wine album never got the love that it deserved. It’s a sad state of affairs that “artists” such as Lil’ Kim were dropping platinum albums back then whilst Cherry Wine was merely a blip on the musical radar.
Best tracks :: Dedicated, 9th Wonder, La Femme Fetal, Swing (Guest appearance on Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night), Yeah You, Are You Can You Were You, Barksdale Corners, Lost Foundling, Free Press And Curl, Chuch, Home (Guest appearance on Jake One’s White Van Music), 16th Minute
Worst tracks :: Ish is one of a select few artists that has never released a song I don’t like.
Best album :: It’s very hard for me to pick between Blowout Comb and Black Up, I literally change my mind all the time depending on which one I happen to be listening to at the time …
Worst Album :: As he’s only ever officially released 4 albums, he’s never had the chance to put out a bad album. Although I will say that the Cherry Wine album is an acquired taste, hence the fact it never did as well as it should’ve done.
I wish he’d work with … whomever it takes to get the Ishmael Since 1999 album released. As a fan, I need to hear that album. In all honesty though, I think he’s found the perfect collaborator in Tendai Maraire, the work he’s put out as part of Shabazz Palaces puts pretty much every mainstream Hip-Hop artist to shame.
Have they still got it? Black Up shows that he’s still got it and he’s not resting on any laurels, I’m pretty sure he’ll be making interesting, soulful, and progressive music for a while yet.