1. ALBUM REVIEW: Shabazz Palaces – “Black Up” (Sub Pop, 2011)

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here . You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    “Swerve… The Reeping of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding)”


    You’re forgiven for eyeing Shabazz Palaces with some cynicism. After all, on paper anyways, the scenario of a long-MIA 90s rap dude suddenly re-emerged gone “wonky” might read a lil’ suspect. (Particularly if you’re of the belief that a disturbing percentage of wonky-tonking beats sound like producers pressing “record” and dropping their MPCs down a flight of steps.) That Palaces is the latest endeavor of Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler formerly of Digable Planets (a/k/a the rappers who sounded so soft even Europeans thought they were European) only potentially inflames the snark glands more.

    That’s why you gotta listen to the actual records. If hip-hop folk love sniffing out b.s. the only thing we love even more is a legit comeback. And, at least creatively, the adventurous Black Up – really, less your conventional “rap record” than a record that just happens to be from a rapper, if that makes any sense – takes enough surprisingly effective sonic turns to qualify as a gratifying reinvention. Who knew Butler’s chirping vocals would lend themselves so well to the sub-bass tones and glitchy piano riffs of “Are you… Can you… Were you? (Felt)?” Or that “Recollections of the wraith’s” rimshot-happy underwater ukulele soul would generate such pangs of optimism? Or that the frequency drops (Dubstepable Planets?) and spooky whale call-sounding loops of “An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum” would stick so stubbornly in one’s sub-conscious? (Or that anyone could willingly co-sign a song entitled “An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum”?)

    Clearly Butler himself feels pretty dang liberated by the abstraction allowed in his latest musical stop, and he’s letting it all hang out. (If you thought “An echo…” was a doozy of a song title how’s about “A treatease dedicated to The Avian Airess From North East Nubis (1000 questions, 1 answer)”?) “free press and curl’s” refrain even finds him repeating “I’m free!” a few times in case anyone didn’t get the memo. Guess a Palace is more inviting than a Planet after all.

Follow The Leaders.