Monday, May 3, 2010

I'd Love to Turn You On #8: Digable Planets - Blowout Comb

Welcome to Twist & Shout’s “I’d Love To Turn You On” a fortnightly column by our deeply knowledgeable staff of hardcore collectors and music lovers who want to spend some time turning you on to some of their favorite releases of yore; titles that may have slipped out of the public favor, or perhaps never quite found the audience they deserve. Dig in to some terrific musical esoterica and enjoy the sounds.

The celebratory, somehow secretive horns on the “May 4th Movement starring Doodlebug,” that open this album are a slick preparation which ease the listener into the forthcoming onslaught of "creamy bullets," lyrically flying amidst one of the funkiest rides and loftiest endeavors in hip-hop history. Digable Planets’ sophomore – and to date, last – effort may throw one off a bit as its depth and richness is only hinted at on their debut Reachin’.

As a cohesive effort, with a multitude of positive messages delivered in superb fashion, the overall flow of Blowout Comb offers commanding twists and turns and a Candyland type ride full of hedonistic pleasures which derive not from the gold on their necks, but from the richness of the people they encounter. Some of those people include Guru, the recently passed on and massively talented voice of hip-hop music. Also, the influential Gang Starr Foundation, Jeru the Damaja and other gifted young artists such as Sulaiman round out and perfect the record.

Although it is commanded by Digable Planets to listen "one time, for your mind," this album is honestly a whole bunch of fun. It is a party to end all parties, at every turn the unexpected bumps and oddities make for a wild, delirious journey, providing all the blueprints necessary for groovin’ and spacing out. The album’s easy vibe disarms the listener, providing soft, fertile ground in which Digables plant plenty of juicy thoughtful seedlings – stoic and solemn lyrical pleas for the correction of injustices and freedom for imprisoned political prisoners, among other things. There is no compromise on any level in this production. If this is the last thing they had to say, they "came correct, no question." Digable Planets beg for togetherness, unity, more pleasure and love, and less hurting and hating. But do not be fooled, their delivery and no nonsense approach make this a serious and provocative effort. This is in no way hip-hop lite. Its lack of obviousness, so-fresh-it's-the-future delivery, and clever lyrics make me return to this album almost every summer with nostalgic glee.

It is true that this album holds much sentimental value for me. I bought this album on the way to Colorado from Las Vegas in the summer of 1994. Much like the move here, I did not know what to expect but was more than just pleasantly surprised at the richness of the landscapes and diversity of the big city. I left Colorado and came back many times. Every time I came back to this magnificent place I wanted to hear Blowout Comb again and it was always the perfect album to put on. It reminds me of the summer I was 18, when I had such great hopes for the future and although life hasn't turned out perfectly, there have been perfect moments and albums like this remind me of those times in the past and yet somehow still evoke those same hopes for the future.

What really makes this album so timeless is its ability to delve deep into the past and still remain completely in the Digable Planets’ own world. This is beautifully exemplified by the Roy-Ayers-sampling "Borough Check," a masterpiece touched by the hip-hop Midas himself, Guru. They delve into the lush libraries of NYC for source material, and also into the darkest corners of daredevil graffiti-laden subway tunnels, so slickly displayed on "Graffiti." "The Art Of Easing" flows cleverly in response to critics’ disses that they were not real rappers. The art of easing through the streets of NYC comes, after all, with knowing its ins and outs. They also remind us that easing through NYC is not for the weak of heart and being "freshly dipped" and groovin’ on funky beats helps out a lot sometimes. The hook "noise, noise, noise" on "Graffiti" reminds me of a Brooklynite I knew who couldn't sleep in California at all because it was too quiet. She needed the sound of fights, music, traffic, and breaking bottles to soothe her to sleep. Everywhere outside of Brooklyn just wasn't alive enough. That is the feeling of this album, it is the ultimate non-stop party - too much too pay attention to in just one visit. But they ease you into such a groove, you will find yourself wanting to return to Blowout Comb many times and find yourself surprisingly at ease amongst the initial chaos when you do.

-Christianne Chowning
RIP Keith Elam AKA Guru

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