In the early nineties a young insect by the name of Butterfly founded an
insect collective called the Digable Planets. With Ladybug and Doodlebug by
his side, Butterfly had all us earthlings expressing how cool we were with
the infectiously jazzy Cool Like Dat. The Digable Planets dropped two hip
hop gems in 1993s Reachin (A New Refutation of Time and Space) and 1994s
Blowout Comb, but like many of hip hops definitive groups, the Digable
Planets would not remain a collective.
After the Grammy winning Digables disbandment, to many it seemed as if the
members of Digable had become a part of hip hops history, never to be heard
of again, as a group or as individuals. But nearly ten years after the
release of Blowout Comb, Butterfly, the groups founder and leader, has
emerge from yet another cocoon, this time not as Butterfly, but as Ishmael
Butler, aka Cherrywine.
After moving back to his former home of Seattle, Butler used the recordings
of Prince and Sly Stone to learn how to play the guitar and keyboards. He
linked with the Turner brothers and they formed Cherrywine, a funk out band
more concerned with emotional sincerity, than political ranting. Also
finding success as an actor since his Digable days, Butler feels he has
matured and grown since his recording youth, maturation that can be heard on
Bright Black, Cherrywines debut album. Before going on tour, Butler talked
with Allhiphop about the dissolving of the Digable Planets, what hes
learned since than, and why he is, despite what cats may think, still hip
AHH: So dude, its been about seven years?
Ishmael Butler: Seven years, yeah, yeah.
AHH: What you been up to?
Ishmael Butler: Just basically doing music still in the interim, just none
of it was released. So to the public its been seven years, but in
actuality Ive been making music the whole time.
AHH: Did you actually complete an album?
Ishmael Butler: Yeah, I did an album in 1999 and 2000, but it never came
AHH: Okay, newsflash, for cats that dont know, the Digable Planets broke
up, are you willing to speak on that?
Ishmael Butler: We just stopped wanting to be around each other. Everybody
seems to want there to be some kind of conclusive event or something like
that, but all you have to do is think about your own relationships in your
life, things happen over the course of time that make you want to not be
around somebody. And then maybe you get back with them at some certain time
but its not no cataclysmic event and sh*t like that, its not that
dramatic. There is drama, but its played out in real time, not in article
AHH: Do you all still communicate?
Ishmael Butler: Yeah
AHH: And based on what you just said, there is the possibility that you
cats could get back together?
Ishmael Butler: Yeah, theres a chance.
AHH: Youve composed music for some commercials?
Ishmael Butler: Yeah, I did a Fila commercial a while back in 1998, and I
did a Pepsi joint for radio.
AHH: Youve been doing some acting too, how did you get bitten by the
Ishmael Butler: I studied film at NYU and I took an acting class and I
liked it a lot. We shot films at school and just got into it like that.
AHH: You were in dream hamptons movie short I am Ali, what was that
Ishmael Butler: That was about a schizophrenic young man who thought that
he was Muhammad Ali, and his girlfriend starts to figure out that his
condition went beyond some kind of joke, that he was really not well in his
AHH: And you played the lead character?
Ishmael Butler: Yeah.
AHH: Didnt you just get finished shooting something?
Ishmael Butler: Yeah.
AHH: Can you talk about it?
Ishmael Butler: Yeah, its called Men Without Jobs, and its a comedy and
a drama about these two brothers that live together and their getting older
and they start to figure out that they just cant keep acting like kids, so
its kind of like a coming of age story.
AHH: Is it coming to theatres?
Ishmael Butler: Im not sure, its an independent movie so who knows?
AHH: Any future acting projects lined up?
Ishmael Butler: Yeah, theres a film called We Deliver, which is gona go
into production sometime before the year is out.
AHH: Youve got some interesting feelings on the state of the hip hop
underground and how a lot of time underground types will look at MTV types
like there not as talented or whatever. You said that you stopped looking
at things like that, what did you mean?
Ishmael Butler: Theres just a tendency for groups of people who listen to
music that isnt popular to feel like that music is somehow better than
popular music generally. And they have a distain for success and that sort
of lifestyle and amount of status and stature I stopped doing that cause I
realized it wasnt really true.
AHH: You said that you felt some of Digables music was rhetorical, what
did you mean by that?
Ishmael Butler: Well you can be rhetorical and be sincere, but by
rhetorical I mean if you take a political stance, something like say
political prisoners or indiscriminate amounts of blacks in prisons, and you
mention it in a record and other people say hell yeah thats true, that
isnt essentially an action to do anything about what it is that youre
talking about. Whereas there are people out here who go to law school and
they get law degrees and instead of joining a huge firm they work in the
public defenders office or they try to get cases of people that have been
wrongly accused and sentences turned over and sh*t like that. Basically
what Im saying is that if you have a political agenda it has to be backed
up by actions that change whatever it is you want changed, not just talking
about. Like saying hey I say things that bring awareness to whatever,
thats a bunch of bullsh*t, bring awareness for what reason, niggas dancing
in the club and then they get high and afterwards say yo that cat is deep,
and Im deep too cause I recognized it, nah, that aint what Im talking
bout. If youre gona be political, if Im gona be political, then its gona
be through actions not necessarily rhetoric and words.
Ishmael Butler: But I mean what we were saying we were sincere about, Im
not saying it was some bullsh*t, naw Im saying that now, for me, and not
for anybody else but me, I dont just want to give lip service to things
that deserve way more, we talking about peoples lives and sh*t like that,
just cause Im putting it on record dont make me nothing.
AHH: Okay, now lets talk about Cherrywine, who comprises Cherrywine?
Ishmael Butler: Cherrywine is me, Thaddeus Turner guitar player, Gerald
Turner bass player, and who ever is drumming at the time (laughter). We had
a couple of drummers, Davey C, Davey J, Chris Brooks and Jim Gerald.
AHH: Is Cherrywine your new moniker or is that just merely the groups name?
Ishmael Butler: Both.
AHH: Why Cherrywine?
Ishmael Butler: Cause thats what it is.
AHH: Just all the things that can be associated with Cherrywine?
Ishmael Butler: Yeah, all the things that you could come up with.
Understand that whenever something is presented to you, it could be
something that is obvious or they tell you what they want you to think about
it or you could think what you want about it and then the limitations on it
are only inside of the person and not the person the created the work. I
like a muthaf*cka who can think for they self, so I just say things and try
to let them get stuff out of it rather than try to tell them.
AHH: Describe Cherrywines sound
Ishmael Butler: You mean how do I think it sounds?
AHH: Yeah, if you had to break it down to somebody, how would you describe
Ishmael Butler: Yeah, I wouldnt break it down to nobody, I mean I would
just be like listen to it and they would have a way better idea than
anything I could say. But when I listen to it its kind of schizophrenic to
me, its about a duality, its about a push and pull, what life is really
all about to me.
AHH: You said that you feel this work digs a little deeper than your
previous work, what do you mean?
Ishmael Butler: Some of the Digable Planets music was topical and I still
deal with topics, but now its my own inside and my psychological make up
and how that translates into my actions, so its deeper like that.
AHH: I know how you feel about supplying meaning for other cats, but whats
behind the title Bright Black?
Ishmael Butler: Its just something that I see. If I look at something
pitch black and I know that there lights inside of it because I could see
it, and what you see has to be reflected into your eye in order for it to
even register. Its just about illumination coming from within inside of
something rather than coming from outside of it and casting a light. And
black is not a color that people associate illumination, but it is a color
that can be bright. But once again its up to the individual, cause
everything nowadays is telling us what to think, buy, wear, and feel, and we
can really do that on our own.
AHH: You said that you feel like youve matured lyrically, and to a lot of
cats that is going to sound ironic, considering that Digable was thought to
be one of the most lyrically potent collection of emcees doing it at the
time, so what did you mean by that?
Ishmael Butler: When youre a little kid you say a lot of words to try get
a point across because you dont have mastery of the shortcuts of language
in order to do it. You dont understand the nuances of a word like you
could say f*ck that, or you could say fuuuuuck thaaaat (said in a Cherrywine
manner). There the same word, but they have a different meaning based on
how you use them, so as you get older you can be more concise, more clear
with less, and thats a sign of maturity to me. So I use less to say more,
because I know more, and I would rather be concise than to be longwinded.
Was it much of a transition for you to start singing?
Ishmael Butler: I really dont consider anything Ive done singing nah it
wasnt that much of a transition cause I aint really singing, its like
more of a chant.
AHH: What are you listening to now, what are you spending money on?
Ishmael Butler: I listen to a lot of Rock and Roll really man, and a lot of
AHH: Whats the last hip hop you were into?
Ishmael Butler: I still like it, and I hear all kind of sh*t just from
going out and being around niggas that listen to that and I hear sh*t that I
think is tight, but I dont ever really know what it is.
AHH: It seems that a lot of forward thinking types, Common, Andre 3000,
yourself, who seem to kind of be bored with hip hop?
Ishmael Butler: Im not really bored with it because once you get to a
certain level, you realize that there is not such thing like theres niggas
that make music for genres, they go into the studio saying Im bout to
makes a hip hop album. But niggas like me and Common and Dre, we came
about in a time when you really didnt have to stick up for hip hop, because
it stuck up for itself, which doesnt happen anymore. You couldnt sound
like nobody else we came up, cause nobody would f*ck with you. Once you got
super popular and was on the Grammys, nobody would f*ck with you. If you
got rich, you was corny. Those types of conditions dont exist anymore.
Niggas from our era see this sh*t you got white boys out here talking about
yo this is real hip hop and lyrical content and all this kind of sh*t.
And Im not saying this as a complaint, Im just being real. You got niggas
thats 24 that want to tell a nigga like me, ah, that aint real hip hop.
Nigga what the f*ck is you talking about, I am hip hop, I was there when the
sh*t was born muthaf*cka and now you white boys and little corny muthaf*ckas
come around, 22, 23 years old, yall know a few old school sh*t, and you
wanna tell a nigga that branch out, that hes turning his back on hip hop.
So we just realize that there aint no categories no more. And if you
coming out all reactionary, being anti-bling bling, making beats that sound
like old school sh*t, thats cool, but they gotta realize that everybody
aint gone dig that sh*t, hip hop muthaf*ckas really aint, niggas that were
around when sh*t really kick off. Because you had to be ahead of the game,
you couldnt be on no throwback sh*t, it wasnt allowed. It was a lot more
of boot camp situation with us, you had to be good, once you was good, that
was all that mattered. Now if youre popular, thats all that matters.
AHH: So do you think that the music thats coming forth that may initially
not sound like hip hop, your album, Andres album, Cee-Los album, do you
think that is where hip hop is going?
IB: It should be, if underground hip hop hadnt been over run by white boys
and that white boy mentality, and Im not being racist, its just facts.
And its not just white cats, its any cat that dont really understand hip
hop, they just read about it, or just seen it on TV and from that came up
with their own interpretation, which is be exclusive, except no breaking out
of the boundaries and limitations of what they consider to be real hip hop.
Hip Hop was always a stretch, the first RUN DMC record had live bands on it
playing rock and roll. Now a nigga picks up a guitar and cats dont
understand that its the same thing. Furious Five, all the early Sugar Hill
records, their singing on there, they got harmonies, they got melodies.
Less we forget where we came from. But now if it aint boom bap, boom bap
(makes the sound with his mouth), with some niggas talking about some dumb
sh*t, than thats not hip hop. And I know thats not the case, I know
better than that, so when niggas come to me talking all that sh*t, if I
dont get mad enough to punch them in face, I just laugh. Its limitless.
Cause we started out saying what are the rules, there aint no f*cking
rules. What kind of music can we use, man you can use anything. What can
you say, you got sing or you gotta talk, you can do whatever, muthaf*cka do
what you want, whats better than that. But now we compartmentalize sh*t,
oh thats hip hop and thats rap, come on man. These young cats and these
so called hip hop heads, man come on.
AHH: So whats next for Ishmael Butler?
Ishmael Butler: Another Cherrywine record and more acting.
AHH: Any last words?
Ishmael Butler: Sh*t, thats it man.