30. Blowout Comb, Digable Planets
The second Digable Planets album was even more blunted than their first outing, as if they’d gone in the reverse direction that Tribe took from Low End Theory to Midnight Marauders. That analogy holds when you look at both the music and it’s reception – commercially, the muted vibes of the album kept it from doing as well on the charts as their debut did.
Perhaps it was on purpose. Ishmael Butler said he was inspired to mix the vocals at a lower volume by George Clinton, who said that inaudible elements of music give it longevity by drawing the listener in. Butler also wanted the vocals to be “woven in with the fabric of the music, not necessarily something that was on top.” He was betting on his music’s richness to stand the test of time, and he ended up being right. Blowout Comb doesn’t sound dressed to impress—it’s bare bones, Brooklyn-centric rap that flirted with boom bap via bluesy loops.
Butler also did something unprecedented in rap – after the group’s crossover hit “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” in ’92, he was afraid that the group’s center would destabilize due to crossover popularity. Prior to the sophomore album, he took a trip to Watts, L.A. and absorbed black history from elders he stayed with. Both of his parents were Black Panthers, and it occurred to him that being abstract wouldn’t work to broadcast the group’s Afrocentric message. Thus he changed his name from Butterly to Ish, and Ladybug, who changed her name to Mecca, can be heard namedropping the likes of Eric Dolphy and bell hooks. They needed to be direct if they wanted their music to make an impact. It worked like a charm.