I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering the Seattle-based emcee, synth player, guitarist and producer Ishmael Butler. Butler is known as the co-founder of two critically applauded, groundbreaking, JOVM mainstay acts — Digable Planets and Shabazz Palaces. About a decade ago, Butler was preparing to publicly emerge from several years of near-complete creative silence. During the summer of 2009, Butler’s Shabazz Palaces quietly self-released a pair of EPs that quickly established the act’s unique sound and aesthetic: Butler’s hyper-literate verses full of complex inner and out rhyme schemes paired with psychedelic sonic textures and refracted rhythms.
When Butler started Shabazz Palaces, he desperately wanted the act to stand on its own strength and not on his long-held reputation. So confidentially was essential; in fact, he adopted a pseudonym for himself. As Shabazz Palaces’ profile and network rapidly expanded, Butler recognized that he needed new monikers for his various creative pursuits and collaborations that would be allow them to stand on their own. 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 has also been a vital and important collaborator in the Shabazz Palaces Universe. Blood and Butler can trace their collaboration and friendship back to when they were introduced to each other 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 Digable Planets fan, and as an obsessive fan, he passed along a bootleg copy Blowout Comb for the mutual friend to have Butler sign — and Butler dutifully did so.
Over the course of the next few years, Blood and Butler would have chance encounters and sometimes during those encounters, they’d talk about possibly working together. Several years had passed but when Butler finally sent Blood a few songs to mix, their creative chemistry was obvious and immediate. Blood, who’s a huge hip-hop fan has always been an obsessive music listener and fan with wildly eclectic tastes. Butler, on the other hand, who’s a lifelong hip-hop fan, began listening to and absorbing shoegaze and ambient soundscapes.
Several years later, when Butler finally sent Blood a few songs to mix, their creative chemistry was obvious and immediate. That shouldn’t be surprising — Blood, as a huge hip-hop fan, has a always been an obsessive music listener and fan with eclectic tastes while Butler, a lifelong hip hop fan, began listening to and absorbing shoegaze and ambient soundscapes. Interestingly, every Shabazz Palaces album has featured a Blood and Butler collaboration, a collaboration that finds the duo specifically focused on and delighting at the intersection of shoegaze, ambient electronica and hip hop, actively and restlessly pushing hip hop towards new psychedelic textures. “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.”
Butler and Blood’s Knife Knights debut, last year’s 1 Time Mirage came as a result of about a decade of collaboration and the development of a very rich and dear friendship. 1 Time Mirage‘s material was recorded over the course of three different recording sessions, interrupted by Butler’s touring schedules with Shabazz Palaces and Digable Planets and Blood’s recording projects. The album finds the duo and a cast of collaborators crafting a lysergic soundscape that meshes elements of soul, shoegaze, hip-hop, drum ‘n’ bass, noise and chaos.
1 Time Mirage’s latest single is the lysergic and woozy “Drag Rage Legend.” Centered around a wobbling bass line, stuttering beats, bursts of distorted, wailing guitars and Butler’s imitable flow, the much like its immediate predecessor continues with a narcotic yet noisy vibe. (Admittedly, I wonder how the song would sound under the influence of hallucinogens.)
Directed by Joshua M. Johnson, the recently released video for “Drag Race Legend” is a psychedelic tale of wasted youth that follows a sunglasses wearing young man with a penchant for street drag racing, skipping school and getting as high as humanly possible. He proclaims himself a legend, drinks spodie (also known as jungle juice and spodie odie, depending on where in the country you’re from) and parties too much. The video is looks as though it were filmed on rainy and distorted VHS tapes, with wavering explosions of color and fuzz, as the video’s protagonist goes through his daily routine.