Review : Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
PitchforkShabazz Palaces emerged two years ago with an air of carefully cultivated mystery: Two EPs appeared, identified only by the Arabic patches on their covers. The music was some of the most exploratory hip-hop of the year, an enticing batch of fragmented raps and woozy, disorienting beats. You could find precedents for this stuff-- the amorphous wanderings of cLOUDDEAD, the jazz rap of the early 1990s-- but these EPs were largely on some sui generis shit: Nothing else out there sounded quite like Shabazz Palaces.
The Shabazz Palaces and Of Light EPs featured an MC going by the name Palaceer Lazaro, and he introduced an alternately glittering and gritty urban noir taking place in the unlikely setting of Seattle. That the reedy yet resonant voice behind Palaceer's raps was readily identifiable as Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler of downtempo rap collective Digable Planets (and, later, Cherrywine) did little to lift the shroud. Butler declined interviews and dodged photographers, and when he did speak, his answers were as evasive as his raps were richly, if obliquely, illustrative.
His reticence was an attempt to let the music speak for itself and avoid comparisons to his previous acts (adding some alluring intrigue didn't hurt). And some comparisons are inevitable: The EPs continued the darkening trend that occurred in between Digable's unlikely breakthrough Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) and thornier follow-up Blowout Comb, and which developed further with the sinister funk of Cherrywine. But if Shabazz Palaces' first phase was about building a mystique, their Sub Pop debut is the product of opening up. Black Up lets some sunlight in, breathes fresh air, and finds Butler returning to an occasionally lighter flow, the most unburdened he's sounded since the world first heard him. Which is not to say that these are easy, uncomplicated songs. Butler continues to eschew traditional verse-chorus structures in favor of tracks that unpredictably diverge and then pool into lone, evocative words or concise chants. And if some of Butler's rhymes and sonics are breezier than before, his tracks still retain their moody, hard-thudding, and sometimes psychedelic atmospheres....full text
GuardianSub Pop's first hip-hop signing are an anonymous collective with a no-album-credits policy, fronted by one Palaceer Lazaro, formerly known as Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler of the Grammy-winning 90s outfit Digable Planets. Black Up, their full-length debut, connects black consciousness with the dark mysteries of deep space, synthesising tribal drums, kalimba and African inflections with fragmented beats and eerie, futuristic synths. Lazaro eschews Auto-Tune for disembodied reverb FX, and recasts familiar, temporal rap tropes with sci-fi imagery, romantic and menacing by turns; Recollections of the Wraith blurs the welcoming flash of nightclub neon with the twinkling lights of stars and "spaceships", protracting its mystery-woman's honeyed R&B hook into an oscillating, alien wail. Yeah You's low-end bass and pattering rhythm are set in a claustrophobic digital loop, morphing rap's jazz roots into tense neo-noir, setting honking retro car horns against clanging chains and the click-click of thug shotguns – a thrilling, space-age vision of modern hip-hop....full text
SpinIshmael "Butterfly" Butler once rhapsodized about jazz and Jimi in '90s boho-rap darlings Digable Planets. Now, as Palaceer Lazaro, leader of this mysterious Seattle collective, he espouses a more realist view, even reveling in extensive, effusive cran-berry-and-vodka seductions. He still enigmatically declares solidarity with the urban proletariat and critiques pop-culture clichés, but Black Up impresses most with its beguiling sounds, especially the verdant keyboard washes of "Are You…Can You…Were You? (Felt)" and the dread bass ticks of "Recollections of the Wraith."...full text
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