Butterfly was the first up in the "Rebirth of Slick" video, with the cherubic, heart-shaped face, barely-pubescent stubble, and the voice dripping insouciantly out of his nose. Nowadays the old scalp-puller knots are full, grown-up locks, breaking against his face like high tide; the baggy shirts and jeans are customized boho chic; the voice popping out of the top of his head. Digable Planets could often wring a certain easy urgency out of their most casual moments, and that's still present on Black Up, but it's not the young man's please-like-me eye contact with the camera anymore. It's over-the-moon love talk backed by cracked, lysergic psychedelia. It's opening a sort-of-debut hip-hop album with a beatless stew whose only percussion is a rapper's guttural "k"s and hard "c"s. It's the courage of hard-won convictions, the tone never rising above conversational, even when the ideas at play are just on the sensible side of incendiary.
The aforementioned Mr. Butler uses words like "free" and "forever" as if he might just, almost, have working definitions for them. He berates Every Rapper's Other as not weak or worthless, but simply boring and conventionally commerical: "for this amount I'll do it / for this I'll let you watch." He uses "all that diamond dust / blowing up your hoax" as braggadocio. His "who do you think you are?" is less angry than impatient. He sounds like a veteran who has sold enough records, and knows what that means, and keeps his Grammy in a box in the basement.
He sounds like he owns the place.
Blink reactions might tie Shabazz Palaces in with the doyennes of experimental hip-hop, but El-P, who does Jacob's Ladder delirium almost by default, wouldn't go near the woozy Technicolor swirl of "A Treatease..." (let's not belabor the titles), and he certainly wouldn't turn it into a stuttering swoon of puppy-lust, or take the time to notice the smell of her hair or ask her if she got a good night's sleep.
The many tendrils of Anticon, who too often wear their oddness like costumes, would never deign make time for the vintage boom-bap, the sunny melody or the fuck-you block party traditionalism of "Swerve...." And I'm not sure who would dream of unfurling the stomping, back-masked tribalism of "Kings New Clothes...," or the cheese-grater gating and concussed jazz taps of "Yeah You." Someone on the poppier end of the Brainfeeder camp, maybe?
There are some loose parallels to be drawn, on occasion, with the recondite sparkle of, say, Mount Kimbie, or the disgusting bass weight of Digital Mystikz—Black Up practically swims in bass—but all of that seems to miss the point. A better, if less descriptive, comparison would be to someone like Captain Beefheart, looking for all the world like a vandal, while detailing so minutely it becomes transparent.
What we don't have here is 1993 again. Butler has no truck at all with the past, either as good-old-days abstraction or his own, more tangible one. No mention is made of Digable Planets, nor does he even use the past tense, and while some of Black Up isn't a million miles from his former group's darker corners, it's not particularly like much else. It's all present tense, in a way too little is, and brash, bold, and weird about it. Per one of his more baffling lines: "up, or don't toss it at all."
- Published /
Fri / 15 Jul 2011
- Words /