Release Date: Jun 28, 2011
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Rap, Pop/Rock, Alternative Rap, Left-Field Hip-Hop
In the Nineties rap trio Digable Planets, Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler typified hip-hop as a bright fantasy of Brooklyn brownstone stoops and hippiejazz vibing. Reborn as Palaceer Lazaro in Shabazz Palaces, the rapper still waxes poetic with the old boho bounce as he lounges in the club or decries the evils of American culture. But the beats are, as he says, "new off the spaceship" – noirish sound clouds that sweep in anything from African thumb pianos to trash-compactor solos, and nearly make up for drugged-out song titles like "Endeavors for Never (The Last Time We Spoke You Said You Were Not Here.
In this age of oversharing, when you can you know what the guitarist of your favorite grindocre band is eating for lunch, there’s something so antiquated about Shabazz Palaces, the first Sub Pop-signed rap group, declining to even have a MySpace page, and having just a husk of a website. The group’s reluctance to enter the mix, and instead letting the music speak for itself, makes sense on multiple levels, the principle being that the group is spearheaded by Ishmael Butler, he of the late and lamented Digable Planets, the Native Tongues-affiliated boho rap crew responsible for the transcendent Blowout Comb. If Butler were to enter the fray of blogosphere interviews, he’d surely be hit with questions about Digable Planets, questions about why he’s calling himself Palaceer Lazaro, questions about what the music of Shabazz Palaces actually means.
2011 has already seen a good deal of creative, forward-thinking hip-hop that is helping redefine our perceptions of the genre. I’m not just talking about the ubiquitous Odd Future collective, but also self-styled weirdo Lil B, avant-garde viscera from Death Grips, and hazy, gorgeous soundscapes from producer Clams Casino; it’s becoming a more multidimensional genre. Rap veteran Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler won a Grammy in 1993 with jazz-rap trio Digable Planets, but he’s created an entirely different, less accessible persona as “Palaceer Lazaro” with Shabazz Palaces.
Review Summary: Clear some space out, so we can space out.Since his arrival on the hip-hop scene as Butterfly in seminal early-90s group Digable Planets, Ishmael Butler has shape shifted through various identities, struggling for a voice as powerful as Digable Planets. He moved out of New York and back to Seattle, his hometown. Cherrywine, his early 2000s genre-fusing rap group only made one album with little commercial success.
Shabazz 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.
Butterfly was the first up in the "Rebirth of Slick" video, with the cherubic, heart-shaped face, barely-pubescent stubble, and the voice dripping insouciantly out of his nose. Nowadays the old scalp-puller knots are full, grown-up locks, breaking against his face like high tide; the baggy shirts and jeans are customized boho chic; the voice popping out of the top of his head. Digable Planets could often wring a certain easy urgency out of their most casual moments, and that's still present on Black Up, but it's not the young man's please-like-me eye contact with the camera anymore.
Will the cultivated mystery around Shabazz Palaces work out as well for them as it has for the Weeknd? Since they've avoided doing any press, and don't give away any info in the liner notes, all we know for sure is that Shabazz is a project helmed by Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler of 90s jazz hip-hop legends Digable Planets, who's been trying (unsuccessfully) to rebrand himself as Palaceer Lazaro, and that they're signed to Sub Pop, a label best known for grunge. However, if you take those clues to mean this is a retro album of backpacker beats and complaints about the current state of hip-hop, you'd be missing out on one of the weirdest rap albums of the year. Yes, there are some jazz and soul influences here and a few earnest lyrics, but this is way more dark, futuristic and cutting-edge than you'd guess.
Only a little more than a year after releasing two EPs -- a self-titled one, and Of Light -- Seattle's Shabazz Palaces signed to Sub Pop for their full-length debut. Even on a high-profile label, former Digable Planets member Ishmael Butler (formerly Butterfly) maintains a shroud of mystique, rapping under the facade of Palaceer Lazaro and purposely avoiding publicity, interviews, and liner credits. Considering his long-term time in the game, his wordplay is still surprisingly relevant, and, masked as Lazaro, he reinvents himself by adding an air of sophistication to the persona of a streetwise gangster.
Ishmael Butler can be a bit confusing. He was once part of Digible Planets, but now—as the front man for Shabazz Palaces—he prefers to go by Palaceer Lazaro and act as a sort of man behind the curtain. If this shift in persona seems unnecessary, even tedious, from a performer that’s been around as long as Butler has, the slippery nature of identity it presents gives us a great frame for the equally slippery music on Black Up.
Digable Planets, who presented erudite hip-hop steeped in the jazz tradition in the early ‘90s, stood as one of the last mainstream rebukes to rap’s shifting status quo, having chosen composed missives over righteous anger and smooth horn samples over jittery, processed funk. It was a commendable stance, but one whose platform of jazz, black pride, and enlightenment had already begun to feel outdated, giving the group an air of fusty agedness, like they might have guest-starred on the The Cosby Show had it not gone off the air a few months prior to the group’s breakout hit. Nearly two decades later, founding member Ishmael Buttefly returns as Shabazz Palaces, a semi-secret project for which he goes by the name Palaceer Lazaro.
Sub 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.
Palaceer Lazaro has been charming the slacks off the blog elite for the last 12 months. On his Sub Pop debut, he’s sliced off the excess, preachy rhetoric for something inventive, bold and brilliantly fresh.Distressed, [a]Gang Gang Dance[/a]-like soundscapes and jazzy Erykah Badu-isms illuminate songs like (deep breath) ‘[b]A Treatease Dedicated To The Avian Airess From North East Nubis (1000 Questions, 1 Answer)[/b]’ and ‘[b]Are you…Can You…Were You?[/b]’. While foraging for meaning in this mixed-up world, he’s casually leap-frogged the likes of [a]Tyler, The Creator[/a] and [a]Wiz Khalifa[/a] in the Most Inventive Hip-Hop Album Of The Year Stakes.Priya ElanOrder a copy of Shabazz Palaces’ ‘Black Up’ from Amazon .
Shabazz Palaces score out of the blocks with their debut album. Black Up points toward hip-hop as a source of headphone albums as the Seattle collaborative offers intriguingly fractured surfaces under their vocals, alternating brain-tweaking minimalism with jarringly complex rhythms and vinyl-ripped ephemera. .
Shabazz Palaces “Clear some space out so we could space out,” Palaceer Lazaro raps on Shabazz Palaces’ debut album, “Black Up” (Sub Pop), summing up the group’s aesthetic. Ishmael Butler, a k a Palaceer Lazaro, called himself Butterfly when he was a leader of the jazz-loving, Grammy ….
Left-field hip-hop can be divided into two basic types: the heady, experimental half and the heedless, weird-for-the-sake-thereof half (with some wiggle room in between, of course). We’ve seen plenty of the latter lately, with acts like Odd Future and Kreayshawn stirring up hype all throughout the blogosphere, but now a Grammy-winner from the ’90s returns to the scene to show the new kids on the block what that neglected first half is all about. Meet Shabazz Palaces, the new project from Digable Planets member Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler.
Hip hop on Sub Pop? Frankly, it's hard to know why they didn't think of it before. Louis Pattison 2011 Let’s deal with the angle first: Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up is the first hip hop album ever to be released on Sub Pop, which for all its varied recent history – hitting pay dirt with the likes of The Shins and The Postal Service, going country with Fleet Foxes and Iron and Wine – is still rather more associated with grunge than the pillars of beats, rhymes and life. Mind you, Shabazz Palaces is a reminder that people, just like labels, can reinvent themselves.
It’s no secret that a sense of swaggering narcissism is as closely linked to hip-hop music as maudlin introspection probably is to rock. Whether or not that axiom holds any water in 2011 is up for debate, but so long as artists like Kanye West and Coldplay continue to make headway on the charts, bravado and earnestness respectively will remain the cited qualifiers of those who endorse one genre and dismiss the other. Though it’s true that hip-hop’s bluster and opulence have never really been simpatico with indie rock’s ethos of self-sufficient modesty, no one should be startled that the venerable Sub Pop label signed Shabazz Palaces as its premier hip-hop act; the group – essentially the brainchild of Seattle MC Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler – is shrouded in a level of mystery unheard of in these days of social networking.