Rock-and-Roll Survival Guide
Ishmael Butler has had an extraordinary career in rap music. In 1993, his group Digable Planets released a huge hit and a hiphop classic, "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)." In 1994, Digable Planets received a Grammy Award for best rap performance by a duo or group. In 1997, he contributed to Camp Lo's Uptown Saturday Night (who will ever forget his role in the "Luchini AKA This Is It" video?). At the beginning of the '00s, Ish went underground, and near the end of the decade reemerged as something wonderful: Shabazz Palaces. Two years ago, Shabazz Palaces won a Stranger Genius Award. Last year, Sub Pop released Shabazz Palaces' Black Up, a record that received praise from almost every music blog/journal/critic imaginable. Because this is a lot of success for a rapper, we asked him...
What should a rapper do if he/she becomes famous?
Cut down on the time you spend looking in the mirror.
Are you serious?
Yes! If you make it big, you can't spend more than 15 minutes a week looking at your reflection, trying to see if that jacket will go with that chain. That's what will kill you. You start losing a sense of what's happening around you. You are the biggest danger to your own success. I have seen it so many times. A rapper becomes all about himself. Then they start sounding corny. They really believe they are great because of what they did and not because of what they heard or got from other people. Stay away from the mirror.
Describe the downfall of a big-time rapper.
The industry is not at all about dancing or starting a revolution; it's about moving product. When you can't see that anymore, the fall begins. This is why you want to be humble. You can only get richer if you are paying more attention to things that are outside of yourself.
What was it like to win a Grammy?
At that time, the Grammy was not perceived as it is now. The Grammys were not a place you wanted to be or go to. You did not make an album thinking about getting a Grammy. These days, you do. You record music with a Grammy in mind. We understood it as an industry thing, so we saw it for what it was. But it was fun to be there, don't get me wrong. My parents were there; I got to meet Aretha Franklin and Frank Sinatra. Those are amazing people and artists. To be among them was like being awake in a dream.