Certified Fresh: Shabazz Palaces - Black Up

When I first heard Seattle-based experimental rap crew Shabazz Palaces's first two mini albums, Of Light and the self-titled, last summer, I immediately fell for their innovative beats and production and Ishmael Butler's excellent rapping over top of it.  As soon as I heard "Kill White T", I could tell these guys were going places and I was excited for anything they were going to come out with in the future.  I don't think I fully realized their potential, or the potential of their unique sound, though.  It wasn't until I heard the first single, "An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum", from their Sub Pop debut, Black Up, that I realized they were taking rap to a place that it hasn't really gone before.

There have been plenty of rap artists in the last ten years that have tried to experiment with their sound as much as possible while still keeping all the elements of a good hip-hop song intact.  MF DOOM/Madvillain, Outkast, and J Dilla are a few that were good at fitting all kinds of strange samples and rhythmic left turns into their songs while still maintaining what makes people listen to hip-hop in the first place,  great beats and killer verses over top of them.  But, Shabazz Palaces's experiments differ from those other artists partly because they are making music in a different time, and they have the advantage of perspective.  There's been a lot of really interesting developments in experimental electronic-based music recently.

One album I think is a major reference point for Black Up (and I could be completely wrong here) is Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion.  I see that album as somewhat of a paradigm shift for music production.  As far as the song-writing goes, AC didn't really do anything on that album that hasn't been done already, but the production of that album really was something special.  Until that point I don't think many people realized the potential of using samples to fill a song with so much sound while still having it sound focused.  I hear production influences from MPP on everything now from Beyonce's newer stuff to Destroyer's album from earlier this year to this album.  What Shabazz do differently than the experimental rappers that have come before them is apply the MPP method of using samples to explode a song with sound to hip-hop.  Some other obvious influences Shabazz shows are Flying Lotus and the work Butler's cousin Summach Ecks (aka Gonjasufi) did with The Gaslamp Killer last year.

But, when it comes down to it, Shabazz really just sound like themselves on Black Up (i.e. unlike anything else that's out there currently).  They sound like a bigger, better version of themselves when compared to their two mini albums.  They take the experimental direction they outlined on those early albums and flesh it out to make some truly mind-bending music.  Meanwhile, Butler's lyricism and rhymes have only improved; it'll take me listen after listen to pick up on all the intricacies of his poetic lyrics.  This is one debut that will probably be remembered for a long time to come, and it's exciting to think about what this group could do next.

Standout Tracks: "Free Press And Curl", "Are you... Can you... Were you? (Felt)", "Youlogy", "Swerve...."


Free press and curl

Are you... Can you... Were you? (Felt)


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