Ishmael Butler : Cherrywine

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 1993’s Reachin’ […]

Win A $75 Giftcard To Footlocker

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 1993’s Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) and 1994’s

Blowout Comb, but like many of hip hop’s definitive groups, the Digable

Planets would not remain a collective.

After the Grammy winning Digable’s disbandment, to many it seemed as if the

members of Digable had become a part of hip hop’s 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, Cherrywine’s debut album. Before going on tour, Butler talked

with Allhiphop about the dissolving of the Digable Planets, what he’s

learned since than, and why he is, despite what cats may think, still hip


AHH: So dude, it’s 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 it’s been seven years, but in

actuality I’ve 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 don’t 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 it’s not no cataclysmic event and sh*t like that, it’s not that

dramatic. There is drama, but it’s 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, there’s a chance.

AHH: You’ve 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: You’ve been doing some acting too, how did you get bitten by the

acting bug?

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 hampton’s 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: Didn’t you just get finished shooting something?

Ishmael Butler: Yeah.

AHH: Can you talk about it?

Ishmael Butler: Yeah, it’s called “Men Without Jobs,” and it’s 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 can’t keep acting like kids, so

it’s kind of like a coming of age story.

AHH: Is it coming to theatres?

Ishmael Butler: I’m not sure, it’s an independent movie so who knows?

AHH: Any future acting projects lined up?

Ishmael Butler: Yeah, there’s a film called “We Deliver,” which is gona go

into production sometime before the year is out.

AHH: You’ve 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: There’s just a tendency for groups of people who listen to

music that isn’t 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 wasn’t really true.

AHH: You said that you felt some of Digable’s 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 that’s true,’ that

isn’t essentially an action to do anything about what it is that you’re

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 I’m 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,’

that’s a bunch of bullsh*t, bring awareness for what reason, n##### dancing

in the club and then they get high and afterwards say ‘yo that cat is deep,

and I’m deep too cause I recognized it,’ nah, that ain’t what I’m talking

bout. If you’re gona be political, if I’m gona be political, then it’s gona

be through actions not necessarily rhetoric and words.

AHH: Okay

Ishmael Butler: But I mean what we were saying we were sincere about, I’m

not saying it was some bullsh*t, naw I’m saying that now, for me, and not

for anybody else but me, I don’t just want to give lip service to things

that deserve way more, we talking about peoples lives and sh*t like that,

just cause I’m putting it on record don’t 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 that’s 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 Cherrywine’s 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 wouldn’t 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…it’s kind of schizophrenic to

me, it’s about a duality, it’s 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 it’s my own inside and my psychological make up

and how that translates into my actions, so it’s deeper like that.

AHH: I know how you feel about supplying meaning for other cats, but what’s

behind the title Bright Black?

Ishmael Butler: It’s 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. It’s 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 it’s 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 you’ve 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 you’re a little kid you say a lot of words to try get

a point across because you don’t have mastery of the shortcuts of language

in order to do it. You don’t 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 that’s 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 don’t consider anything I’ve done singing…nah it

wasn’t that much of a transition cause I ain’t really singing, it’s 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

Miles Davis.

AHH: What’s 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 n##### that listen to that and I hear sh*t that I

think is tight, but I don’t 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: I’m not really bored with it because once you get to a

certain level, you realize that there is not such thing…like there’s n#####

that make music for genres, they go into the studio saying ‘I’m bout to

makes a hip hop album.’ But n##### like me and Common and Dre, we came

about in a time when you really didn’t have to stick up for hip hop, because

it stuck up for itself, which doesn’t happen anymore. You couldn’t 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 don’t exist anymore.

N##### 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 I’m not saying this as a complaint, I’m just being real. You got n#####

that’s 24 that want to tell a n#### like me, ‘ah, that ain’t real hip hop.’

N#### 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, ya’ll know a few old school sh*t, and you

wanna tell a n#### that branch out, that he’s turning his back on hip hop.

So we just realize that there ain’t no categories no more. And if you

coming out all reactionary, being anti-bling bling, making beats that sound

like old school sh*t, that’s cool, but they gotta realize that everybody

ain’t gone dig that sh*t, hip hop muthaf*ckas really ain’t, n##### that were

around when sh*t really kick off. Because you had to be ahead of the game,

you couldn’t be on no throwback sh*t, it wasn’t 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 you’re popular, thats all that matters.

AHH: So do you think that the music that’s coming forth that may initially

not sound like hip hop, your album, Andre’s album, Cee-Lo’s album, do you

think that is where hip hop is going?

IB: It should be, if underground hip hop hadn’t been over run by white boys

and that white boy mentality, and I’m not being racist, it’s just facts.

And it’s not just white cats, it’s any cat that don’t 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 n#### picks up a guitar and cats don’t

understand that it’s 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 ain’t boom bap, boom bap

(makes the sound with his mouth), with some n##### talking about some dumb

sh*t, than that’s not hip hop. And I know that’s not the case, I know

better than that, so when n##### come to me talking all that sh*t, if I

don’t get mad enough to punch them in face, I just laugh. It’s limitless.

Cause we started out saying ‘what are the rules,’ there ain’t 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, what’s better than that. But now we compartmentalize sh*t,

oh that’s hip hop and that’s rap, come on man. These young cats and these

so called hip hop heads, man come on.

AHH: So what’s next for Ishmael Butler?

Ishmael Butler: Another Cherrywine record and more acting.

AHH: Any last words?

Ishmael Butler: Sh*t, that’s it man.