Dcide/Babygrande RecordsIf music could be a Dorian Gray mirror, Cherrywine–n Ishmael Butler–reveals one mean, bruised soul under his sleek facade. He's filed an album's worth of first-person reports on the thrills and regrets reaped from a lifetime of playerdom. And it's a bleak travelogue, with powerful hip-hop beats and a live band churning out a Parliament-influenced, late-night funk. It's also a surprise for anyone who's followed Butler's career. During the relatively sunny Clinton years, Butler went by the flower-power moniker of Butterfly. His trio, Digable Planets, considerably lightened hip-hop's worldview by preaching a type of beatnik communitarianism and pioneering the use of jazz loops with hits such as 1993's "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)." A decade later, Butler has broken out of his post-Planets aural exile with the more serious vibe of Cherrywine. Whether it's an ominous chorus like "Cocaine's coming!" punctuating his verse on the track "See for Miles," or the loose fun of "What I'm Talking" (a rap about getting high, getting down and spinning around town), Cherrywine speeds down dead-end roads potholed with horrors and too-easy times. In lesser hands, Cherrywine's rhymes could have collapsed into dreary moralizing, but his beats and atomic funk almost make self-destruction seem fun. The acoustic blues of the last track, "All I Can Do," also leaves room for redemption, and a message that one's humanity can't be beaten down.
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