Abstraction is a funny thing in hip-hop: Although rap lyrics are in many ways analogous to poetry, unless you’re a top-tier crazy-person rapper like Cam’ron or vintage Lil Wayne, your quickest way to rap success is sticking to the literal. Think Drake’s relationship issues, or Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s libidinous stripper talk—it’s all stuff you can see, smell and feel. Shabazz Palaces is not about that—but then, the guys of Shabazz Palaces are anything but conventional.
Signed to Sub Pop, the Seattle indie-rock label most famous for inking Nirvana and effectively kick-starting the grunge boom, Shabazz Palaces is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire and rapper Ishmael Butler, formerly of the ’90s jazz-rap group Digable Planets. In Planets, Butler—then known as Butterfly—kicked relentlessly positive free-associative verses. But in his Palaceer Lazaro guise, he’ll dive into some mystical shit at the drop of a fedora.
Black Up, Shabazz’s debut release, was one of last year’s most engrossing albums, its sonic uniqueness rooted more prominently in the lush, spacey futurism of producers such as Flying Lotus, Bonobo and the Bug than in anything else in contemporary hip-hop. Butler, meanwhile, has found an exciting voice as a rapper: his flow interweaving within Maraire’s instrumentals, his lyrics advancing from Native Tongues–indebted babble to MF Doom–esque psychedelic portraiture. It’s acid rap in a time when hip-hop needs weirdos more than ever.—Drew Millard