In 2011, when Shabazz Palaces dropped their Sub Pop debut, they painted a pretty unique soundscape. Rather than the shimmering, candy-coated rap fellow Seattle duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis was creating, Black Up shone like a stainless steel spaceship. Though there was a heavy influence from early Hip Hop there as well as African tribal music of all things, the duo of Palaceer Lazaro (aka Ishamel “Butterfly” Butler of Digable Planets and Cherrywine) and Tendai Maraire sounded like they dropped from some futuristic city in the sky. Listening to nearly any other rap directly before them was the auditory equivalent of tuning into the Flintstones followed immediately by the Jetsons.
Three years later and Palaces have released their follow up, Lese Majesty, and whether you thought it was possible or not, they leave Black Up in their stone age, still light-years ahead of us. Instead of floating in a spaceship, Majesty moves you out to the shimmering abyss and lets you float freely through a beautiful, glittery ether. This is the music your great-great grandchildren will bump in their flying cars.
One (tiny) gripe I’ve heard about Lese Majesty is its lack of traditional verse-hook-verse structure. While this may be a drawback for the more traditionalist Hip Hop heads among us, within the format of the album, it works wonders. In shrugging off the standards, Shabazz Palaces created a space to explore their many wild ideas and instincts. The seven suites, all imaginatively named, flow together beautifully, creating a dreamy sequence of intertwining textures and rhythms. Heavy muted basslines lay backbones for glimmering synths and odd noises. Butler’s soft vocals are coated in effects ranging from circa 808’s And Heartbreak Kanye autotune to deep layering and off the wall echoes. Random whispers materialize on “Noetic Noiromatics” then disappear as soon as you notice them. The following cut “The Ballad Of Lt. Maj. Winnings” comes packaged with one of the weirdest time signatures I’ve ever heard in a song before; it’s something Madlib would come up with on an acid trip, in the future. Even the handclaps sound like they’ve been dipped in Technicolor and wrapped in chrome.
Palaceer Lazaro, who handles production with multi-instrumentalist Maraire, is just as formidable on the mic. His voice carries the same softness and approachability as Q-Tip, but his lyrics are anything but. Lese Majesty is an exercise in vocabulary and cryptic vocal gymnastics. On lead single “They Came In Gold” he spits, “Farcical, quite simply it is him/It’s black-ephilic and petalistic catastrophic hymns/Darkness, the light that flashed then dared/heirs” which is nothing more than a mere sample of the vernacular used through Lese Majesty‘s 45 minute, 18 second runtime. Most of what is said will go over your head, but don’t be ashamed. He doesn’t always sound like he’s making sense. But even if he is spitting gibberish, he sounds great doing it. Like the sage he presents himself as, Butler’s teachings will unravel over time and warrant repeated listens, but you’re going to want to do that anyway.
All the hubbub about this album may sound intimidating. Experimental rap has come a long way within the last few years, and few are taking bigger, more warped strides than Shabazz Palaces. But don’t let that deter you from enlightenment. This is, simply put, great music.
Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire are way beyond you and I. They know things we don’t and probably never will. But Lese Majesty makes it easy to spend hours trying to discern whatever the hell they are.
Overall – 9
out of 10
Source: Kevin Nottingham