That was all true for their first two projects, the “Shabazz Palaces” and “Of Light” EPs, and nothing has changed with the new full-length, “Black Up."
The same adjectives might fit the man behind the mic, Digable Planets alum Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, at least in his approach to rapping. His moderately paced, raspy and recognizable voice provides a very grimy feel when paired with the awkwardly original production that ranges from soulful to vaguely electronic at times.
Butler and company avoid all clichés when approaching hip-hop, instead putting forth something that can’t be matched in today’s musical climate. It’s far from radio-friendly, with a lack of catchy beats or hooks, but given the lyrics on “Black Up,” Butler is not a fan of the mainstream. In addition to not caring for the record industry and mainstream artists, his lyrics include commentary on other social problems. As well as the weird factor, there is an intelligence factor for this offering.
A few songs certainly stand out more than others. One is “An Echo from the Hosts That Profess Infinitum,” which features an eerily sampled, bass-heavy beat that Butler flows slowly but nicely over. Another, “Recollections of the Wraith,” is the perfect example of those soulful elements mentioned above. The sample used for the chorus here is of a lovely voiced songstress harmonizing, something that pairs well with the steady drum beat. Add Butler’s relaxing rhyming and you’ve got a hit — by my standards, anyway.
The final song on the album, “Swerve … the Reaping of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding),” offers yet another unique composition. With more prominent drums and a flute-like instrument to work with, Butler comes on strong with his lyrics on this grand finale. Although these tracks stand out, there really aren’t any to complain about. Each is just a variation of odd production with Butler providing words to match.
Butler, who originally remained mostly anonymous and went by the alias Palaceer Lazaro for the prior Shabazz projects, may not have the most marketable music with this group, but he’s certainly found a niche. The awkward, unpredictable and eccentric music the group puts out is far from lackluster; in fact, it more likely borders on greatness. He shows his true colors by laying down some outstanding verses throughout.
As mentioned before, the production is very odd, but matches perfectly with Butler’s approach. Overall, “Black Up” is a step away from what we normally call hip-hop, but this step is in a refreshing direction that leaves one wondering what Shabazz Palaces has in store next. Until then, “Black Up” will be seeping through my headphones. —Ryan Querbach