Since the release of their critically applauded full-length debut, 2011’s Black Up, the Seattle-based act Shabazz Palaces — emcee and producer Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire — have managed to boldly continue Butler’s relentless desire to reimagine hip-hop and to boldly expand the possibilities of sound while proving that they’re the heirs to the astral imaginations of Sun Ra, George Clinton, Octavia Butler and Alice Coltrane. As a result Butler has collaborated with like-minded, critically applauded experimentalists including Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Battles, Animal Collective, Clipping and others — and he has toured with the likes of Radiohead and Lauryn Hill.
Slated for an April 17, 2020 release through Sub Pop Records, Shabazz Palaces’ forthcoming album Don of Diamond Dreams is reportedly a sort of futuristic manifestation of ancient myth, featuring robotic and vocodered vocals, warped auto-tune, alien-like synthesizers — but with drums speaking a universal language, as the material’s overall sound meshes and blurs the lines between hip-hop, dub, soul, funk, African, experimental and occasionally even pop.
Although their fifth album continues a prolific run of meticulously constructed albums, its creation was centered around instinct and improvisation, being both cerebral and automatic with Butler jotting down phrases and ideas in his phone and eventually shaping them into amorphous, abstract and expressionistic verses. Interestingly, some of the material is shaped by Butler’s reflections on being a parent and watching his son, Jazz become internationally renowned as the rapidly rising artist Lil Tracy. There’s interplay between father as son, with Butler absorbing the sounds of today’s youth, but filtering it through his own fractured lens, spitting complex rhyme schemes with wild cadences and wordplay, freestyling with the wisdom and experience of age and the passion of someone, who believes that he has something to prove. And while as self-assured and as confident as ever, the album captures an act boldly attempting something new.
Don of Diamond Dreams‘ first single is the glittering and thumping “Fast Learner.” Featuring a prominent guest spot from Purple Tape Nate, the track is centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, wobbling and tumbling bass lines and heavily vocodered and reverb-drenched vocals, the track is a lysergic-tinged and semi-retrofuturistic take on trap that’s one-part slow-burning and atmospheric R&B, one-part surrealistic, art pop, one part golden era hip-hop. And while sounding unlike anything else in their growing catalog, the song does manage to further cement the duo’s forward-thinking, 37th century hanging out around Jupiter’s rings in a badass spaceship take on hip-hop.
Directed by Stephan Gray, the recently released video for “Fast Leaner” is a gorgeously shot, hallucinogenic-fueled take on the prototypical hip-hop video that’s one part Italian art film, one part trap shit, one part street shit, shot at dusk and at night in various locations, including the desert, the studio, the streets, artist-like lofts. If this the sound and look of our soon-to-be dystopian future in which our society collapses, the poor get sick and the rich get richer, then it fucking slaps.