If you really know your hip-hop and were a child of the 80s as I was, you would remember Digable Planets – after all, their debut effort Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) was a critical and commercial success; in fact the album was certified gold by the folks at the RIAA thanks to the fact that “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” was a crossover major hit, landing at number 15 on the Billboard singles chart. And the group won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group back in 1993.
After the release of the band’s sophomore effort, Blowout Comb, the group split up with members moving on to other creative pursuits – Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler had started a live music hip-hop act, Cherrywine, that released an album in 2003; Doodlebug now goes by the name of Cee Knowledge and tours with a backing band by the name of Cee Knowledge and the Cosmic Funk Orchestra; and Ladybug, now known as Lady Mecca has embarked on a solo career, releasing a solo album in 2005. Interestingly, Butler disappeared after the release of Cherrywine’s debut album and reappeared several years later with collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Baba Maraire in a project they called Shabazz Palaces. They quickly and anonymously self-releaed two EPs before signing to Sub Pop Records and releasing the critically applauded Black Up! In fact, the duo of Butler and Maraire quickly developed a reputation for having crafted a sound that uncompromisingly defied easy description – it sounds unlike anything you would have come across in most contemporary hip-hop, as the sound on Black Up! was surreal and kaleidoscopic as it consisted of swirling electronics, weird syncopated rhythms, and perhaps most important, Butler’s ridiculously complex and inventive rhyme schemes.
Shabazz Palaces much anticipated follow up to Black Up!, Lese Majesty is slated for a July 28th release globally and a July 29th release across North America. And from the album’s latest single “#CAKE,” the track shows that Butler and Maraire are relentlessly experimental, as they’ve gone through a decided change of sonic direction as their sound now incorporates pulsating New Wave-era synths, which add a futuristic sheen to a sound that was already incredibly psychedelic. The song effortlessly morphs and shifts – seemingly at will.
The track seems to evoke the sensation of going through a wormhole and discovering a surreal plane of existence in which the known laws of physics don’t consistently apply. But if there’s one consistent thing Ishmael Butler as an emcee is unheralded for both his inventive rhyme schemes and his weirdness. Check out how he shouts out Paris, Mogadishu, the Bronx, Neptune, Pearl Jam, synth pop and a bunch of other things randomly – and yet it makes sense in its own right.