Over a decade ago, Ishmael Butler was Butterfly in Digable Planets, the fleetingly famous, jazz-influenced, sampladelic softie trio who released two albums and one breakout single, 1992's "Rebirth of Slick (cool like dat)." Now he adopts a starkly different persona as Cherrywine, a parody of pimp culture, the polar opposite of Digable's peacenik stance. The new name suggests that Butler wants you to drink him in to get intoxicated; he literally says, "Come take a sip" on the opener, "What I'm Talking."
It's magic when the music itself -- all produced by Butler, Dave Darlington, and Lawrence Sims -- precisely matches the mood. "Girlcrazy," where woozy moans slip in and under a blatant lyrical ode to the fairer sex, is a strong contender for the title of standout song. But sometimes Cherrywine sounds too high on himself, making it harder to believe that his concept is just an elaborate joke. "Dazzlement" is a thin, lifeless barb of street life with ineffectual lyrics ("It's gangsta/It's thugged out/It's bugged out") and unremarkable instrumentation that apes OutKast. "See For Miles" is a messy and blatant ode to cocaine, crassly and repeatedly shouting out the drug by name. Relievedly, a more overt humor surfaces on the next song, "So Glad For Baby," on which he proclaims, "I don't believe half the shit I talk."
Cherrywine will likely divide old Digable fans and new listeners alike. Some will appreciate the care he's taken in using Cherrywine as a metaphor, while others may mistake it for being a misogynist mess instead of a lampoon. Still it's a provocative conceit that makes Cherrywine's bumpy and uneven ride an ultimately worthy one. -- Tamara Palmer
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