Album of the Day: Shabazz Palaces “Black Up”

Posted on March 20, 2012

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The sparkly Palace of Shabazz foto@shabazzpalaces

My reaction to this trippy, futuristic hip-hop group was so weird, I couldn’t understand it at all. When I first heard “An Echo from the Hosts that Profess Infinitum” I was in a crowded subway being pushed and prodded from every damn direction. The opening notes of the track rang out like a compelling siren. I looked around. It seemed like everyone should have stopped and prostrated themselves, or something. “Do you not hear this?” I wanted to yell. Then I thought, “Oh right, I’ve got me headphones on.”

Much has been said about this mysterious group of indeterminate number. They are based in Seattle; the lead boy is Ishmael Butler aka ‘Palaceer Lazaro’; one confirmed collaborator is multi-instrumentalist Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire. Everything else, apparently, is shrouded in mystery.

Stream their album Black Up here.

In the words of a slightly exasperated Pitchfork, the only mag so far to score an interview, “Palaceer Lazaro, the man at the center of the enigmatic Seattle avant-rap project Shabazz Palaces, is otherwise known as Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler…  But he’d prefer not to talk about any of that. In fact, he’d prefer not to talk at all.” (1)

Why the zipped lips? SF Weekly mused about an “Afro-Muslim empowerment thing going on” (2), and it is unsurprising that if one was culling influences/ inspiration from Arab motifs and Muslim icons (SF explains that Malcolm X was also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz), this would not be the best climate to hold forth about it.

More reading on Rolling Stone and a beautiful review of their album Black Up (released 2011 on Sub Pop) on Vulture.

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(1) Tom Breihan, “Rising: Shabazz Palaces”, Pitchfork, May 2010

(2) Reyan Ali, “Shabazz Palaces Lets Its Hip-Hop Do the Talking”, San Francisco Weekly, June 2011