03 May 2006

Overlooked Albums from the '90s - #30

Blowout Comb by Digable Planets

The majority of my knowledge of hip-hop relates to albums from the '80s. Not to say I don't know a thing or two about rap records from the '90s, but most of the rap albums I love from the '90s couldn't rightfully be considered 'overlooked'. Still, given that hip-hop has always found a home in my music library, I felt it only right to include a rap album in this list. Works out well that Blowout Comb by Digable Planets combines super MC work with skilled DJ'ing, guest appearances, mellow psychedelia, and jazz samples, because those things make this a fine choice to be the final album featured in EAR FARM's Overlooked Albums from the '90s feature.

(Indeed, 'Overlooked Albums from the '90s' is going to be laid to rest next week with one final post rounding up the albums covered thus far, and detailing a few more overlooked records from the '90s. More on the conclusion of this series next week.)

Who didn't fall in love with Digable Planets back in 1993 when "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" came out? I can't imagine there are many of you. That song, MAN it was so good. It was the freshest of fresh; still is, even after all of the many times I've heard it. Jazzy, groovin, rhymin, chillin...heck, the entirety of Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) was a watershed moment for rap. Gangsta rap and the style-over-substance mentality all fell by the wayside as intelligent and GOOD hip-hop came to dominate the charts for ten years. Or, actually, no it didn't. Somehow the debut album from Digable Planets scored the band a Top 20 single and nothing else (in terms of chart success) after that. But, hey, it got ME something. Listening to Digable Planets gave me an in with this cute/smart girl in one of my classes in high school. I was Mr. Smithsguy and she was an aloof, intelligent, hip-hop listener. Worlds apart. She got in my car (senior year) to go to some class project and the CD in the stereo was Reachin' and she couldn't have been more impressed. However, I don't think that Digable Planets count matchmaking as one of the highlights of their career. Besides, isn't this about Blowout Comb?

Indeed. But it's important to consider where the Digables were (artistically) when they recorded Blowout Comb. They were fresh off of a surprise hit single, and they were ready to take a few chances. From RollingStone:

"Trippy urban dreamscapes, detailed imagery and production grounded in funky '70s jazz populate this crafty if sometimes incongruous sophomore outing. Instead of locking into formula, Digable Planets have taken admirable chances, and a slew of superb live players breathe life into tracks backed by tastefully understated New York-flavored beats and ambient effects."
RollingStone gives the album a lukewarm review and a rating of three stars. They very much missed the point, or somehow didn't hear all of the excellence on Blowout Comb. I think that's the case with most of the music buying public in regards to this album yet somehow, AllMusic got it totally right:
"Though Blowout Comb lacked the commercial punch of Reachin', Digable Planets made great strides in the two areas they'd previously been criticized: beats and rhymes. The beats were incredible, some of the best ever heard on a rap record, a hip-hop version of the classic, off-kilter, New Orleans second-line funk. The productions, all crafted by the group themselves, were laid-back and clearly superior to much hip-hop of the time. The raps, though certainly not hardcore, were just as intelligent as on the debut, and flowed much better. While Reachin' came to sound like a moment in time for the jazz-rap crowd, Blowout Comb has remained a timeless classic."
Blowout Comb occupies a heady/psychedelic/jazzy space of underground hip-hop greatness that very few other artists have ever been able to achieve. Why isn't it held in high regard like Dr. Octagonecologyst, Endtroducing..., and Midnight Marauders? Why??

Listen:Previous Overlooked Albums from the 90's:
#1 - Saturnalia by The Wedding Present
#2 - The Inevitable by Squirrel Nut Zippers
#3 - This is Our Music by Galaxie 500
#4 - Dusk by The The
#5 - Fantasma by Cornelius
#6 - New Wave by The Auteurs
#7 - I, Jonathan by Jonathan Richman
#8 - Futureworld by Trans Am
#9 - Harmacy by Sebadoh
#10 - Cure For Pain by Morphine
#11 - God Fodder by Ned's Atomic Dustbin
#12 - Seven by James
#13 - Why Do Birds Sing? by Violent Femmes
#14 - Blank-Wave Arcade by The Faint
#15 - Dog Man Star by Suede
#16 - Beatsongs by The Blue Aeroplanes
#17 - Don't Try This At Home by Billy Bragg
#18 - 1992: The Love Album by Carter USM
#19 - Time Was Gigantic...When We Were Kids by The Durutti Column
#20 - Psalm 69 by Ministry
#21 - The Dirtchamber Sessions, Vol. 1 by The Prodigy
#22 - Going Blank Again by Ride
#23 - Love At Absolute Zero by My Favorite
#24 - Placebo by Placebo
#25 - K by Kula Shaker
#26 - Kill Uncle by Morrissey
#27 - Manhattan Melodies by Eric Reed
#28 - Dare To Be Surprised by Folk Implosion
#29 - Songs and Music From She's the One by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

if you'd like...
Pitchfork's top albums of the '90s
1st version of their list

Another site does their own "Overlooked of the '90s":
Top 30 'Other' Albums of the '90s

5 comments:

Sean said...

Holy crap...I hadn't thought about Rebirth of Slick in YEARS.

That song is friggin awesome. Nice pick Matt!

Culley said...

Good find. I'd forgotten about this Digable Planets record.

Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Matt.. I've loved it but this was the time to kill OAOTN... Good work.

However, I honestly think this and 8+ are the guts of the site, I know they are what I come here for. So make sure you don't totally abandon this angle please.

I, and numerous friends of mine in their late 20s find digging around for classics much easier than dealing with "modern scenes" which bite the dust so easily. This means I rarely choose to listen to music less than 5 years old, when I am sure the verdict of history rather than hype is in.

So please don't kill the back catalog hunting. it's why I come here.

Kevin said...

Blowout was great ... probably the Grammy-winning "Reachin'" set too much of a commercial expectation for Digable. Then when they went totally in opposite direction people had no idea what to make of it.

Both great albums in their own right, though.

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