“Just who…do you think…you are?”
I feel like many of those who stumble upon Shabazz Palaces‘ 2011 full-length, Black Up, are asking that question of the group. Hell, I know I did on my first listen. Shabazz (…like, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, also known as Malcolm X?) is the Seattle-based duo of emcee Ishmael Butler and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire, whom with two EPs and an LP under the belt have put out some pretty intriguing and unique sounds. It’s a natural progression given their backgrounds, as Maraire is the son of the famed mbira player Dumisani Maraire, and in a past life Butler was Butterfly, an emcee from a legendary but somewhat overlooked jazz rap outfit known as Digable Planets (which, I’ve got to get around to writing about sooner on the ‘Beest). The Digable connection led me to this record, and, well…
Black Up is unusual. Using hip-hop as a jumping off point, the record is challenging and at times inaccessible, what with the lo-fi sounds, the spaced out vibe and improvised feel. Butler as “Palaceer Lazaro” reigns supreme throughout, commenting on Blackness, life, women, Africa, and more. At one moment the record feels like a late-night jam session with plenty of psychedelics, and the next it’s out among the stars in some brilliant post-modern Afro-futuristic…something. You don’t quite have a handle on matters but you just roll with it. The record hooks you in with it’s oddity but keeps you invested, and each replay reveals a little bit more and rewards you for staying with it. Black Up is one of those records that pushes hip-hop and all music, forward.
“free press and curl” is the opener from the record, and a standout which I feel introduces the group quite nicely. I was on the fence between this one and another track, “Recollections of the wraith,” with its laid back feel, but I like how obtuse this jam is. I also really like that slowed down interlude towards the end.