Shabazz Palaces has been the low-key version of Odd Future since the beginning of 2011. Shrouded in mystery and with almost zero hype, they’ve delivered an album that could change hip-hop in ways that I thought couldn’t be done anymore. There are references obvious and obscure, heavy influence from the 70’s soul, and a feeling of confidence that shines brilliantly track after track.
Masterminded by Ishmael Butler, formerly of Digable Planets, Shabazz Palaces is the first hip-hop group signed to the amazing rock label Sub Pop (branching out more into comedy as well as other genre’s of music). I have no idea who else is on the record. The names and identities of the clan working on this record have been under wraps, opting for anonymity rather than fame. An unusual move for a guy who is already well known as a member of one of the 90’s best groups (or one-hit wonders depending on how you feel about them).
Black Up isn’t the easiest album to get into. If your mind isn’t open to new things, you’re probably going to hate this. There are things done here that I’ve never before from a hip-hop record. It’s almost like Kid A-era Radiohead taking a crack at the genre. That may seem ludicrous to some, but that tells me that those people haven’t heard the record yet. For those, let’s take a closer look at some tracks.
“Are You Can You Were You” is the third track on Black Up, and it could be my favorite on the album. It’s got this great, slow opening-almost a minute of just music. It’s a quiet, sexy song that wraps itself around your brain like a blanket. The flows are really smooth, and the lyrics are very interesting. “I find the diamonds underneath the subtlest inflections” isn’t something I expect to hear from an MC, and I appreciate that very much.
“Endeavors For Never (The Last Time We Spoke You Were Not Here I Saw You Though)” comes in a little over halfway through the album, and is probably the most Digable Planets-like track. You get jazz samples, an echoing voice, and a chanteuse giving the album some needed vocals. It’s actually a bit reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti‘s work in David Lynch’s films. If you like that kind of thing, this is the track for you.
The final track, “Swerve The Reeping Of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding)” is the last track, and seems to take the most from mainstream hip-hop. It seems to be a slap in the face to all other rhymespitters, saying, “We can do what you do just as well, if not better. But we choose to make music that interests us instead of music that goes platinum.” It’s almost comical, actually, because it seems like something you may have heard on GCI back in the mid-90’s (or whatever your local hip-hop and R&B station is). It’s done so well, though, that I don’t mind it at all.
Shabazz Palaces have proven in a short time that there are things besides hype that make music great. Black Up combines heavy bass, synths and loops, and African tribal music with rap, and it sounds fantastic. If you’re open to something new and exciting, not necessarily rap because I think there’s a much broader audience for this music, then this just may be the perfect summer album for you.