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Shabazz Palaces: Neither All that Nor a Bag of Chips

Posted by August 22nd, 2011 No Comments »

Shabazz Palaces
Black Up

Sub Pop Records
By Ben Allen 

Shabazz Palaces emerged two years ago under a shroud of mystery.

Group leader and former Digable Planets member Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler purposely did not give interviews, intending the music to speak for itself.

Early tracks leaked out in the form of two unlabelled EPs, a calculated marketing move that garnered a collective boner from the Northwest music community (national press seems divided); created enough buzz to sell out the band’s first public appearance at Neumos; and whet appetites for their debut full-length album, Black Up.

Sub Pop finally released Black Up in late June and it’s actually kind of boring.

Eschewing traditional hip hop song structure in favor of psychedelic asymmetry, this is certainly not your Momma’s hip hop. Though it defies easy comparisons, the  album falls drastically short when it comes to enjoyable content. From the droning thirty second intro of opening track “Free Press and Curl,” Black Up moves slowly. Painstakingly slowly at times.

The instrumental compositions could be described as “minimalistic,” leaving the listener feeling as though they were dosed with a heavy animal tranquilizer. This is what rap sounds like to the habitually stoned.

The lyrical content is mostly abstract and confusing. It’s only when Butler repeats more straight forward phrases like “Clear some space out / So we can space-out” on “Recollection of the Wraith” that you may find yourself bobbing your head approvingly.

Shabazz Palaces has a distinct sound, but they could benefit from some more engaging elements and livelier production. Let’s give this “young” group some time and see if they are able to meld this unique style with some more memorable songs. – (4/10)

Ben Allen, in addition to being a long-time contributor, is the music editor for Savage Henry, a music and culture magazine in Northern California. 

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