Shabazz Palaces: The Don of Diamond Dreams review – Artful, testing and never alienating

Fri, Apr 17, 2020, 05:00


The Don of Diamond Dreams

Shabazz Palaces

Sub Pop

Hip-Hop & Rap

The mastermind behind alternative rap project Shabazz Palaces is Ishmael Butler, also of legendary group Digable Planets, whose continuing determination to test the boundaries of hip-hop has made him, at age 50, one of the most vital 1990s veterans still in the game.

Joined once again by co-conspirator Tendai Maraire, Butler’s fifth Shabazz Palaces album is another mind-warping set of cracked beats and rumbling rhymes. Artful, testing and never alienating, the celestial spirit of Sun Ra runs through The Don of Diamond Dreams. The thundering yet slow-paced Ad Ventures, for example, sounds beamed to Earth from a strange constellation, with Butler hurdling through space and riding on light.

Elsewhere, the eerie sci-fi of Wet gestures towards Aphex Twin, while the keyboard riffs and repetitive hooks of Bad B***h Walking are strongly reminiscent of Kraftwerk at their most pop-focused. The fat bassline that powers Fast Learner sounds summoned from classic West Coast G-funk, but slowed to a creeping pace, with ghost-like guest Purple Tape Nate dousing his soulful vocals in digital effects.

Even a sweet distraction like Thanking The Girls, which sees Butler pay tribute to the women of his life (“I’m thanking you girl for changing my life/For making me whole and being my wife”), is built on a beat that almost feels hostile. It adds up to a weird and often wonderful album that reasserts what anyone paying attention already knew: after all these years, Butler is still daring rap bohemian who must be protected at all costs.