There have been much, and plenty, of coverage of the twenty-year anniversary of the many triumphant works of art. These classic pieces of music remain timeless as they reach to the next generation, like certain types of music. The year 1994 saw the release of many hip-hop classics that solidified the year as the peak of the golden age of rap. Yes, that might sound naive, but in a way we, readers in their late 20’s spanning to the early 40 year olds, are the generation that saw some of the most multi-faceted releases from the various rappers and rap groups of the day.
For example, 1994 will be immortalized as the debut of the hardest hitting, and still legendary MC by the name of the Notorious BIG….
His name still resonates, but there were other debut albums by the hungry freshman of the class of 1994.
Nas, dropped his first and best album the same year, after two famous guest appearances, linking up with some of the most talented producers in order to feed us this…
The album was a sordid journey through the eyes of the many street dwellers expounding the street scenes.
The swath of talent looms large with many other rappers and crews heralding from many parts of the country like Atlanta’s extra-ordinary….
Outkast, who dropped their debut in 1994 titled Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik…..
Chi-Town’s Common, dropping the sense due to the threat of a copyright lawsuit, dropped his second classic album Resurrection…
with its Blue Note record label album cover inspiration the album is a tour-de-force thanks to its producer No.ID and its many great songs, including the hip-hop ode, “I Used to Love H.E.R.”
Many other albums were dropped into our hands, and consumed in large bites like a fine slice of New Haven pizza. But, there is one that fell through the cracks into relative obscurity. In 1994 the Gangsta rap fad was still looming large over the rap world, but there were other genres in hip-hop that provided an alternative. This alternative, which unfortunately has been eaten alive by the corporate hydra of formulaic rap music, provided us with an abundance of differences. One of the sub-rap genres that became popular was the jazz-rap phenomenon, embodied by the use of obscure jazz samples, along with the use of live instrumentation from the classic players themselves, along with a modern approach by using modern day slang. Certain groups like Gangstarr, Guru’s Jazzmatazz albums, A Tribe Called Quest, the Jungle Brothers, De Las Soul, The Roots, and of course the kitschy hit spawned by the group US3, all used these qualities in order to link the past (jazz) with the present and future (hip-hop). To me, and many music scholars, these artists’ albums embodied a timeless quality that was far more connected to the traditional black music than Gangsta or hardcore rap. All these artists have been amazing releasing classic and timeless rap albums, but there is one album that I personally cherish to this day.
However, one of the best albums to come out in 1994, and arguably a classic rap album in the history of the music, is Digable Planets’ sophomore album titled Blowout Comb.
The blissful sounding trio of Butterfly, Doodlebug, and Ladybug are the epitome of the cool Jazz throwback, with that street grime rap music from the early decade of the 1990’s. As many music critics, historians, and ethnomusicologists agree, this is a perfect example of melding Jazz and Hip-Hop music into a perfect product. The traditions lost on most rap music, except for the great sounds of Gangstarr, Guru’s solo albums, A Tribe Called Quest, The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and US3, can be found on this magnum opus. It provides the listener with the connection of the old and the new, using legendary jazz musicians while focusing on the contemporary issues of inner city life. This all starts with track 1!!!
The quiet is pierced with the horns, followed by the beats of a small drum, and then it hits you with the cool wave under your wings with the opening track titled “The May 4th Movement Starring Doodlebug.” Doodlebug lays down the vibe as we skid into the graces of Brooklyn.
I don’t want to make this a track-by-track analysis, but the next track penetrates the light-hearted mood with a poignant telling of a black man being pulled over by the police.
The song “Black Ego” starts with a mellow sounding vibe, and a complementary vibe thanks to the samples of the Meters “Here Comes the Meterman” and Grant Green’s “Luanna’s Theme.” The start of the song’s smoothness is punctured when Butterfly is pulled over and in a faint speaking sound the officer reads him his right. During the reading of his Miranda rights the officer asks if he understands his rights, then Butterfly stings back with “When did I ever have rights?” Lastly the officer asks if he’ll give up the right to remain silent, and then Butterfly retorts coolly with two words, “Hell Yes.” We then stream into the consciousness of the crew, and their commentary on the fucked up state of affairs with regards to the abuse wielded on black men by this fair land’s law enforcement agencies.
We then ease to the next two tracks that work so well hand in hand that they compliment like bread to butter, peanut butter to jelly, and Jews to Jerusalem!!!
The first track titled “Dog It” starts off with horns as the beat hits with the glow of a sample by Herbie Hancock’s group the Headhunters’ titled “God Make Me Funky.” Each one of the MC’s play off each other and play with the slow drum beat conjuring the connections to past black music as Ladybug conjures Marvin (Gaye), Sly (Stone), and Cube (Ice that is) folding time and black music into the track. Once it ends it drops right into…….”Jettin”
It continues the party vibe, as we transport into the fairy tale land of Brooklyn, and you can feel the movement as Ladybug’s vocals go from ear-to-ear in your headphones. We ease back and keep our eyes set on the sunset as the track fades into a freestyle…
This is that Brooklyn shit…Block party, Corner Store, Barber shops, this freestyle and the follow-up song are testaments to the aura and mystery of Brooklyn. Of course what made the track titled “Borough Check” even more authentic is the guest appearance of MC Guru (RIP – Z’L) from the legendary group Gangstarr. This is poignant as he is another great source of the Jazz and Hip-Hop merger, and being a Brooklyn-phile he always had a few tracks on his albums that tell his stories of Brooklyn living.
We next get a small vignette of sounds and smoothness in “Highing Fly,” which has a spread of mystical wording flying 30,000 miles above the earth……crazy commentary.
We then get an intro beat sounding like a murder mystery introduction along with the ominous beats and piano licks. This piano lick and slow and steady beat comes from the group Tavares; song titled “Bad Times” and complimented funkily with the use of a sample from Eddie Harris’s classic “Get On Up and Dance.”
The song, bizarrely, titled “Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies/NY 21 Theme” is as smooth as they come due to the low octave chorus that starts off the singing part of the track.
The next track flies us out to India with the great sitar licks accompanying the slow and steady Jazz beats.
The Sitar plays over a smooth sample of Bobbi Humphrey’s “Black & Blues,” which was also used on two great tracks from the pre-MF Doom group KMD titled “Plumskinzz. (Loose Hoe, God & Cupid)” where Doom (or Zev Love X as he was called then) took the mic, and then on the reprise of the track titled “Plumskinzz. (Oh No I Don’t Believe IT!)” where his brother Subroc (RIP – Z’L) took the mic. It should also be noted that on the Digable Planets version Guru returns with his call for meditations in a classic call-and response format.
We then get a small snippet of the later track titled “9th Wonder,” but with a more instrumental flair. The track, “K.B.’s Alley (Mood Dudes Groove),” incorporates some of these legendary jazz players along a steady back beat along with a sample of things to come.
We then troop back to the elements of Hip-Hop, this one being “Graffiti.”
Along with two of their Brooklyn peers, the amazing Jeru the Damaja and his disciple Afu Ra, the group troops over a faster beat backed by a sample of Roy Ayers’s “Slow Motion.”
We then reach the magnum opus titled “9th Wonder (Blackitolism),” which had a companion video made, and take note of the cool orange ten-shekels note where the great Golda Meir graces its front facade.
This song is packed with the messages espoused throughout the album ranging widely from the 7 and a Crescent, and allusion to the Five Percent Nation (an offshoot of the NOI), Nation of Islam preaching, Brooklyn street life, the block party vibe, and chuck full of hip-hop history thanks to the sign, seal, and delivery made at the end with DJ Jazzy Joyce. The historical use of early rap samples is evident in their use of samples by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, The JB’s, and James Brown. These samples span the history of hip-hop from one of the original rap groups to two of the major sources for sampling drum breaks (at least in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.)
We then end on the corner, “For Corners” that is…
This is the supreme comedown, as you look over the sun rising and the LSD tab you ingested twelve hours earlier is finally wearing off, as you awake in a third floor Brooklyn apartment and ready to walk the day out, as we take stock of this fine masterpiece, Blowout Comb.
Much Love to you, Brooklyn and to my brothers in Israel, Peace!!!