shabazz-palaces

Since their low-key arrival just over five years ago, Shabazz Palaces have trodden a decisively singular path towards the outer edges of a sound that seemed to have already emerged astonishingly fully-formed and unique. Back in 2009, their prismatic brand of jazz-infused future hip-hop stood so deliberately apart from the rest of the modern rap canon that every time Ishmael Butler adopted his Palaceer Lazaro moniker and teamed up with Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire – son of mbira master Dumisani – the result was something dumbfoundingly new. Indeed, their sounds were so disorientating in their freshness that Butler, an erstwhile member of defunct NYC hip-hop group Diggable Planets, went out of his way to remain unidentified, hoping that the duo’s music would speak for itself untethered by his previous work. He needn’t have worried. The cutting edge electronic sci-fi of 2011’s debut LP ‘Black Up’ followed two extraordinarily incongruous EPs that were produced – and embraced – before Butler’s cover was blown, and the group were greeted with a gasp of critical approval, which preceded the deluge of question marks over how a project of such youth could push the envelope with such relish and yet sound so deliberate and polished in its execution.

And so it should come as no surprise to followers of a pair who have always sought to disrupt that after a gestation period of nearly three years, Shabazz Palace’s latest ornate offering not only weighs in at 18 tracks, but is also carefully divided into no less than seven individually titled suites. Described in its press release not as an album but rather a “sonic action,” ‘Lese Majesty’ is intended to dispel the myth that, “sophistication and the instinctual are not at odds.” In doing so, it stretches the format of a modern hip hop record to its limits, creating a weaving, intricate journey of narrative and texture packed with a perfect balance of quirk and substance.

The first section, entitled ‘The Phasing Shift’, sees the collection come to life slowly as it wipes the sleep away. You can feel the first light of the Egyptian sun moving across your closed eyelids as the somnambulistic ‘Dawn In Luxor’ builds, gradually, into something approaching a leaden, staggering groove. The pace is upped slightly on ‘Forerunner Foray’ as Catherine Harris-White of THEESatisfaction’s hazy vocals intertwine dirty nightclub bass and synth lines before first single ‘They Come In Gold’ kicks into the off-kilter rhythms the group have made their signature and in 10 beguiling minutes, the album moves deftly from horizontal to upright.

If the initial quality is high, the bar is notched gently skyward. From the unsettling, politicised dystopia of Suite 2, ‘Touch & Agree,’ to the love letters the duo pen to carnal desire on ‘Pleasure Milieu’’s pair of tracks, the album covers an astounding range of human feeling and stimuli as its pithy lyrical statements dissect power structures, spirituality, and what it is to be human. Even the album’s shortest pieces – ‘Solemn Swears’ and ‘Noetic Noiromantics’ are two of many tracks that clock in under 2 minutes – leave an indelible mark through haunting mantras and icy, dislocated electronic motifs. I could go on but let me summarise: 553 words cannot do justice in paying tribute to a record, which is one of 2014’s only greats.

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