Welcome to Liner Notes, a collection of audio thumbnail essays that tell the story behind seminal albums that you know and love.
In the early 1990s, the music scene was dominated by a fusion of jazz and hip-hop loops. To no surprise, new artists were adding a dimension to this already exciting form.
Digable Planets, founded by Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, Craig “Cee-Knowledge the Doodlebug” Irvin and Mary Ann “Ladybug Mecca” Veiria, entered the music scene in the early 1990s. Their debut album release “Reachin’” in 1993 was a chart-topper, leading to their radio and commercial success. The group won a Grammy for best new artist, selling over a half million units.
Destined to be the next big thing in hip-hop, Digable Planets threw the music world a curveball in their sophomore album release, “Blowout Comb”, the following year. The tracks were taken to the next level, with their mind-blowing fusion of jazz, hip hop, and spoken verse.
Hear a song-by-song analysis of “Blowout Comb”:
“Blowout Comb” pays homage to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene, where the Digable Planets ultimately ended up. The neighborhood, known as an incubator of Black culture, art, and hip-hop music, influenced the style of this album.
“Blowout Comb” was released in 1994 and the initial reception was tepid. It was lost in the shadows of gangsta rap, due to its revolutionary thinking and celebration of Black power and the hip-hop listening community’s outright rejection of anything that aspired to be “intellectual.” Unlike other hip-hop at the time, the album’s focus was on music and vocals, rather attitude and words. Its rejection of mainstream hip-hop still found it to be one of the most mind-blowing examples of genre-crushing hip-hop.
Despite the lukewarm audience reaction at the time of its release, Blowout Comb” is a paragon of “intelligent” rap, funny and weird and catchy and incredibly smart all at once. The album’s cumulative power lies in its ability to simultaneously bring revolutionary thinking and a celebration of blackness to the table.
Following “Blowout Comb”, Digable Planets disbanded for personal and professional pursuits, but have mentioned a potential future album release.