Shabazz Palaces albums
Shabazz Palaces are one of the great hip hop duo’s of the last five years, along with Run the Jewels. They approach rap music like aliens from outer space, not only in the sound effects used on their records but also in their approach to lyrics and emphasis on words. Some words in phrases are brought OUT more than others, if that makes SENSE. “There, I want to be there, let me be in there,” is an example of a lyric that has multiple meanings and one meaning all at once.
The way the duos rap has been criticized in a negative way as too old fashioned, probably linked to the fact that Ishmael Butler used to be in the 90’s collective Digable Planets, but in reality it’s a whole different approach – to rap as if hearing words for the first time, naive but effective. Shabazz don’t sound like anybody because of their odd approach, the act is more about the album than the song and more about parts of songs in a larger suite than traditional song structures. If there was a prize or an award for creating a new genre of music, Shabazz wins that award in the 2010’s.
Palaceer Lazaro (Ishmael Butler) – Raps, lyrics
Tendai “Baba” Maraire – production, instrumentals
Best Album: Less Majesty
Biggest Influences: Africa Bambaata, A Tribe Called Quest, El-P, Black Star, Pharcyde
2011 – (4.5 / 5) – Black Up
2014 – (5 / 5)+ – Less Majesty
Black Up – (4.5 / 5)
Black Up comes at you like an alien from outer space, it does not matter what kind of music you are used to. Yes it is hip-hop/rap, but in reality it aims to be universal while in floating in the universe. This makes Black Up a difficult listen to some, but for the right kind of music adventurer, it’s the album and the group that hip-hop has needed for the last 30 years. And it still is very approachable for all of the weirdness: “Recollections of the Wriath” could be a modern r&b single, while “An Echo From the Hosts That Profess Infinitum” and “The Kings New Clothes” have catchy hooks. “Free Press and Curl” announces its presence from the get go with the lyrics, “you know I’m free”, repeated ad-nausea. Even for all of its accessible qualities, Shabazz Palaces does have sort of a progressive-rock angle as well, as many songs have multiple parts and segways within seconds of each other. “Endeavors for the Never” is a great example of this, a hip hop song for sure but also sharing elements of jazz and glitch music, changing the very meaning of the rap/rock “song”.
The instrumental creations by Maraire cannot be underestimated; his contributions may even be more important than the old school style rapping of Ishamel Butler, who carries the torch proudly from his Digable Planets days 20 years prior. Not everything works perfectly (how could it in an album this daring?), the rambling lyrics of “Are You Can You Were You Felt” threatens to derail the momentum of the two glorious opening tracks, and “Youology” and the conventional “Recollections of the Wraith” are not the most entertaining tunes. But for every minor falter the great tunes keep coming and even late songs like “Yeah You” and “Swerve the Reeping”, the latter recalling Q-Tip from Tribe Called Quest’s magnificent flow, show new insight to an ever changing landscape of apocalyptic digital tundra. Verse-chorus song structures are out the window for most part, but it gels nicely with the space-age production. I can’t say when I have been listening to an album and felt more like aliens were all around me and invisible, watching my every move! It’s a fun feeling, and it stays fresh throughout the entire album. Black Up is the debut album of a new kind of rap music. Greatest Tracks: An Echo From the Hosts That Profess Infinitum, Yeah You, Endeavors for the Never
Greatest Tracks: An Echo From the Hosts That Profess Infinitum, Yeah You, Endeavors for the Never
Less Majesty – (5 / 5)+
I don’t know what kind of music this album is. They definitely had their own approach to hip hop on their debut Black Up, but this is the next step in their evolution and it is simply beyond any other album of its time. There are eighteen songs on the album but they are grouped in seven different ‘suites’ and the approach totally works, because certain songs are only around a minute long and they blend into each other effortlessly (especially in headphones!). What is beautiful is the structure of the songs: there are no verses or choruses, just when you think a song will go a certain way or return to an addictive refrain, it goes another way. It’s a type of music that is not afraid to expand the boundaries of rap; Less Majesty aims to explore and shuns the normal and creates new options. “They Come in Gold” is a perfect example of this: the opening beat and echoing voice sample could be repeated forever or at least repeated once more, but instead the song flows on down a different tributary. “Ishmael” is another great example of doing something unique: notice how the two shorter songs around it (“Soundview” and “Down 155th”) anchor and predict what the song itself will sound like. The three songs together create something that one track alone could not create: atmosphere within atmosphere.
Not every song follows this pattern: “CAKE” is just beautiful wordplay with an awesome beat; “Colluding Oligarchs” is a jazz-space rock Captain Beefheart deconstruction, with the memorable chant of, “they’ll never touch the carpets”; “New Black Wave” is an ominous message from the future. The album keeps changing styles and keeps the listener on guard. I think that may be many detractors problem with the record: it is an effort to listen to at times. Trust me though- as someone who has listened to the album at least twenty times, this is the kind of record that only gets better with age. This album is their Low End Theory, their Cold Vein, their Black on Both Sides, their Aquemini.
Greatest Tracks: They Come in Gold, Ishmael, Colluding Oligarchs, Motion Sickness