If you’ve been frequenting this site throughout the course of this site you’ve been made familiar with Ishmael Butler, the founder of the critically applauded and groundbreaking hip-hop acts Digable Planets and Shabazz Palaces. A decade ago Butler was preparing to emerge from several years of near-complete silence. In the summer of 2009, Butler unveiled Shabazz Palaces through a pair of self-released EPs that quickly established the project’s unique sound — complex and hyper literate verses paired with psychedelic sonic textures and refracted rhythms. And from the start confidentiality was essential: Butler wanted Shabazz Palaces to stand on its own strength, and not on his established reputation, so he adopted a pseudonym for himself.
As the project’s profile and network expanded, Butler recognized that he needed new monikers for his creative pursuits and collaborations; in fact, Knife Knights, was the name that he devised for his work with the then-Seattle based engineer, producer, songwriter and film composer Erik Blood, who’s also a vital and important collaborator in Butler’s Shabazz Palaces. Interestingly, Blood and Butler’s collaboration and friendship can trace its origins to when the duo were introduced at a Spiritualized show in 2003 through a mutual friend, whom Butler was about to record with. As the story goes, Blood was a diehard and obsessive fan of Digital Planets, and naturally he passed along a bootleg copy Blowout Comb for the mutual friend to have signed — and Butler dutifully provided.
Over the course of the next few years, they’d run into one another by chance and sometimes they’d make small talk about possibly working together. When Butler finally sent Blood a few sons to mix, their creative chemistry was obvious and immediate. Interestingly, Butler, who grew up a student of hip-hop began absorbing shoegaze and ambient soundscapes while Blood, an ardent hip-hop fan had always been an inclusive and obsessive music listener; in fact, on every Shabazz Palaces album, Butler and Blood have specifically focused on and delighted at that artistic intersection, constantly indoctrinating hip-hop in new sonic territories. “He [Blood] takes my ideas and clarifies and pronounces them, helps me realize them,” explains Butler in press notes. “He helps me get to the essence.”
After a decade of collaboration together and the development of a very rich and dear friendships, Butler and Blood have written and recorded a proper full-length together as Knife Knights — 1 Time Mirage, an album that finds the duo and a cast of collaborators and friends creating and weaving a unique sound that meshes soul, shoegaze, hip-hop, bass, noise and chaos wth the album representing a free space for unfettered and radical exploration. Interestingly, the album’s material was recorded in the three sessions, interrupted by Shabazz Palaces and Digable Planets tour schedules and Blood’s recording projects.
Butler, Blood, and a cast of collaborators and friends were invited into Seattle’s KEXP for their live debut, where they performed material off their forthcoming album, slated for a September 14, 2018 release through Sub Pop Records. And while bearing a subtle similarity to their work together in Shabazz Palaces, Blood and Butler’s Knife Knights work manages to feel like a refinement of it while being altogether separate. Yes, they employ samplers and synths but there’s an organic and muscular heft through the use of bass and guitar. And as you’ll hear from the songs they performed during this live session are a bit of a subtle refinement of the duo’s acclaimed work with Shabazz Palaces but while leaning closer to shoegaze — it’s lysergic but with a swaggering hip-hop vibe that can only be possible through this unique and thrillingly weird collaboration.