Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past four years or so, you’ve likely been made familiar with the Seattle, WA-based JOVM mainstays Shabazz Palaces. Interestingly, the act continues Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler’s long-held reputation for being exceedingly different that goes back to his days as a founding member of the Grammy-winning Digable Planets, one of the more forward-thinking acts of their time. After Digable Planets broke up, Butler moved back to his hometown, where he met multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire, the son of Dumisani Maraire and formed Shabazz Palaces.
Butler and Maraire quietly released two albums in 2009 — their self-titled debut and Of Light, which caught the attention of renowned indie label Sub Pop Records, who signed the band and released 2011’s Black Up, an effort release to critically applause across the blogosphere and major media outlets for its kaleidoscopic synth and heavy low-end based sound paired with Butler’s witty and incredibly dexterous flow. While continuing to cement Butler’s and Mariare’s reputation for crafting incredibly weird, psychedelic-tinged hip hop paired with Butler’s ridiculously dexterous flow, 2014’s Lese Majesty was a decided change in sonic direction with much of the material possessing an eerie cosmic glow; in fact, the best description I could come up with for the material was along the lines of intergalactic trap music. But along with the decided change of sonic direction, was a bold challenge to contemporary hip-hop artists. As Butler told the folks at NPR during an interview about Lese Majesty, “This endeavor that I pursue, that we all pursue in Shabazz Palaces, make no mistake, this is an attack. We’re trying to show off and really stunt on all other rappers and let them know that this is our style, this is what we do and we’re ready to put it up against anybody else’s stuff.”
Some time has passed since I’ve personally written about Shabazz Palaces; however, Butler spent part of last year on a reunion tour with the members of Digable Planets while Maraire had written and released music with a side project, Chimurenga Renaissance. But the duo managed to find time to write and record their Knife Knights (the production duo of Shabazz Palaces’ Butler and Eric Blood)-produced fifth, full-length effort Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star, which is slated for a July 14, 2017 release through Sub Pop Records. As the members of Shabazz Palaces explain, their forthcoming album is a surreal yet politically-charged concept album that first introduces the listener to and then tells the tale of Quazarz, a sentient being from somewhere else, sent to be an observer and musical emissary, whose mission is to explore and chronicle the things he sees, experiences and thinks — and in some way it seems to echo the cult-classic film The Brother From Another Planet and Alexis De Tocqueville‘s Democracy in America; however, what our otherworldly emissary finds is a bizarre, cutthroat landscape of brutality, conformity, alternative facts, hypocrisy, greed, suffering, selfishness and death masquerading as patriotism and connectivity. And as result, Quazarz finds himself feeling increasingly uncomfortable and out of place.
Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star‘s first single “Shine A Light” continues the duo’s long-running collaboration with Thadillac, who contribute a lush, dusty, old-school soul-leaning arrangement featuring shimmering strings, a strutting bass line, warm psychedelic guitar blasts, shuffling drum beats, and a retro-futuristic-like hook consisting of distorted, vocoder-filtered vocals while Butler’s narrator describes a hellish, pre-apocalyptic world that feels much like our own; but it’s a world that the song’s narrator can’t fathom — and in some way he’s horrified and confused by everything he sees. I certainly couldn’t blame him.