Preview: Shabazz Palaces

Shabazz Palaces perform January 18 at Bottletree Cafe. Image by Leif Podhajsky/Original band photo by David Belisle.

Shabazz Palaces perform January 18 at Bottletree Cafe. Image by Leif Podhajsky/Original band photo by David Belisle.

Shabazz Palaces have grown from two distinct lineages of iconic music and unlike so many offspring of greats past they have managed to not only honor, but to elevate their histories. Comprised of front man Palaceer Lazaro a.k.a. Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler of 90′s jazz-rap fusion group Digable Planets and Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire, a multi-instrumentalist and son of Zimbabwean ethnomusicologist Dumisani Maraire, Shabazz Palaces pumps out an uncompromisingly solid sound that I can only describe as left-field, avant-modern hip-hop.

All pretense aside, the listener can expect to first encounter pulsing, droning baselines. These are quickly overlaid with synthesized beats and Afrocentric soundscapes filled with Maraire’s prominent Mbira, and Lazaro’s nonlinear poetic lyrics. The near immaculate production is the first thing that stands out and it perfectly compliments the lyrical stylings that weave through the soup of synth stabs and percussion, which seemingly incorporates every available sound-style from Electro-Tech to Afrobeat, from Jazz to Gospel, World-beat and 8-bit beep-click.

Although a strong departure from his early vocal stylings, Lazzaro’s aggressive rhymes on (Shabaaz) Palace’s new works are clearly rooted in the smoother, hopeful poetry of Digable Planet’s Reaching and Blowout Comb, but the energy is much more direct and forceful and fills you with an overbearing sense of imminent consequence. There is a muddy, guttural, processed tone to the vocals that, combined with the haunting production and often minimal percussion, draw the listener into an unsettlingly satisfying state that is at once womb-like, head-noddingly blissful, and discomfortingly haunting — an unexpectedly comforting nightmare state. Although that might sound like an unpleasant place to find oneself, it is assuredly one of the best listening experiences that could be hoped for. The juxtaposition of broken, unnatural synthetic sound and purely organic layering is perfectly balanced and leaves just the right amount of breathing room for the percussive, forward-thinking lyrics to ride and crest the soundscapes.

After self-releasing two EPs in 2009, the first self-titled, and the second titled Of Light, Shabazz stirred up a substantial buzz and eventually caught the attention of Sub-Pop Records who signed the group to their predominantly indy-rock roster as their first Hip Hop act in 2010. In 2011, Shabazz Palaces released Black Up on Sub Pop, the group’s first full-length release. Despite the lack of any identifiers on the early EPs, no social media, no interviews, no press shots, a thorough campaign to remain unrecognized and an early tendency to only perform masked, Lazaro built a buzz that has become synonymous with his Seattle home and the sound of the Pacific North-west’s hip hop identity.

Shabazz Palaces will be performing Friday, Jan 18th, at Bottletree.

About Rashid Qandil

Rashid Qandil is a contributing writer for You Hear This, and the man behind Birmingham hip-hop promotion and advocacy group LOBOTOMIX.

Klub Monsta
Klub Monsta

Excited about this show great write up Rashid Kamal Qandil