Last week, at The New Parish in Oakland, Seattle-based experimental hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces put on a pair of shows in support of their new LP Lese Majesty, which dropped last Tuesday.
Within the long-stagnant hip-hop landscape of excess and rampant self-referentialism, emcee Ishmael Butler (formerly of Digable Planets) and multi-instrumentalist/producer Tendai Maraire are total renegades. Whereas hip-hop often feels challenging for challenging’s sake, these guys bend and stretch the genre wide open, challenging the listener in a way that is less confrontational and more invitational.
While bearing similarities (on paper) to Madlib and J Dilla, these guys have created a disjointed sound that is completely their own, making comparisons tough. Dark, brooding rhythms consisting of unstable, off-time bass tremors are stitched deeply into an intoxicating swirl of unidentifiable vocal samples. This percolating stew of sound is unexpectedly punctuated by something light and familiar — such as the soft, innocent plucks of the mbira (thumb piano), or a slowly and deliberately tapped steel drum — creating a sonic atmosphere that is simultaneously unsettling and strangely comforting. Drizzled over the top are Butler’s thought-provoking, if sometimes oblique, lyrical runs: “My body traveled / my mind waits behind the music / my crime bemuses / relax inside my shiny blueness.”