Shabazz Palaces: the hip-hop space cadets go back to black

They created a splash with their debut album, and now Shabazz Palaces are going where other hip-hop artists dare not – if they can survive Seattle’s crazy house prices . . .

 Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire: ‘Hip-hop is representative of the male in America right now: an eternal adolescent, kind of superficial, playful, irresponsible, talented being who has lost his way a little’

Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire: ‘Hip-hop is representative of the male in America right now: an eternal adolescent, kind of superficial, playful, irresponsible, talented being who has lost his way a little’

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 00:00

Are you ready to get high again? Shabazz Palaces are back in the building and their engines are humming. The Seattle duo scorched a path to hip-hop’s far side with the abstract, artful Black Up in 2011. They’ve now returned with a new record set on on taking you to those places other hip-hop acts rarely visit.

Picking up from where Black Up came down, Lese Majesty is chockablock with dreamy jazz flickers, psychedelic beats, experimental washes of electronica, cosmic lyrical incantations and ambitious rushes of sound. It’s as far removed for what passes for hip-hop’s usual mainstream concerns as you can get.

The day after the band’s appearance at the recent Body & Soul festival, Tendai Maraire and Palaceer Lazaro (aka Ishmael Butler, or Butterfly when he was in Digable Planets mode) sit in a Dublin cafe sipping tea as they prepare to talk about the album. Or, rather, to talk around the album. It’s quickly apparent that, as with Black Up, Shabazz Palaces went with the flow when it came to the composition and recording of Lese Majesty. No plans, no drafts, no blueprints.

“It’s very like our performance, it just flows”, says Lazaro. “The album very much resembles a Shabazz show. We don’t really talk that much during a show or do that traditional throw your hands in the air stuff. We try to create a seamless show from beginning to end and you get that on Lese Majesty. It’s all done on instinct, rather than being carefully planned out.”

“We came into this with no expectations, no destination we wanted to arrive at, no blueprint,” says Maraire. “We just started making music because we felt we had to do that. There was a bigger drive behind it than just getting a record out. There’s another force, a kind of instinct, which makes us make this music.”

Perhaps that force has something to do with Seattle. After all, the city long associated with grunge and alt.rock has also produced a couple of great avant-garde hip-hop groups, including fellow space cadets THEEsatisfaction. Local label Sub Pop has gotten in on the act, releasing records by both groups as well as and California’s Clipping.

“Seattle has been very good for us,” says Lazaro, “but people are just catching up with what’s going on there now because of the people coming out like us and THEEsatisfaction and acts like that. This has been going for a while, us and THEEsatisfaction were a little different to the other groups who were around. And now others have joined in”.

“The city is changing; it’s becoming more expensive,” notes Maraire. “The areas we grew up in, it’s cost-prohibitive for artists like us to live there now. You can’t buy a house, you can’t even find one to rent. We wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but the changes make it hard.”

He lauds Sub Pop’s efforts to document the new scene in the city.

“I think it was time for Sub Pop to branch out and try a new thing musically, but not just to do it. They had to find a route which would make the music work within what they do and have always done. I don’t think it was a thing like ‘yo, we go to sign somebody who raps’. It wasn’t as calculated as that.”

Adds Lazaro: “I think hip-hop is representative of the male in America right now: an eternal adolescent, kind of superficial, playful, irresponsible, talented being who has lost his way a little.