Originally published: The Stool Pigeon
Photography: Matt Wash
Shabazz Palaces are packing heat. But few would have thought that their inaugural show in the UK would have sweat dripping from the ceiling a mere few songs into their set. The release of their debut album proper, 2011’s Black Up, was something of a loaded gun forced to hip hop’s temple. A rude awakening for a genre that has, in recent, sat back on its laurels and subscribed to a formulaic routine of chartable hits and resulting pop icons. The Seattle-based outfit held a mirror to its peers and questioned their integrity and myopia while offering something different in return – a visceral, listener-focus record that was as much informed by jazz’s freeform movement and expression as hip hop’s heaviness and flow.
And similarly to their record, their live show is focused, lean, muscular and progressive. From the opening snaps and loping beats of ‘An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum’, their slow and queasy analogue sound is equally as dark and dense as it is luminous and light. Palaceer Lazaro on the mic taunting the hip hop “Kings at leisure time”, “Who do you think you are?” repeatedly with his battle cry.
Better known as Ishmael ‘Butterfly’ Butler of former Grammy-winning act Digable Planets, Palaceer has found a new path fronting Shabazz Palaces’ leftfield leanings. And with Tendai Maraire in cohort, their unity and sense of direction through a set of darting and disparate sounds is mesmerising. Little about their music will even cusp the mainstream sphere of listening (which is part of its overriding glory), and something Palaceer acutely points out amid the oscillating, low-end bass whomps of ‘Free Press and Curl’: It’s “Catchy yes, but trendy no.”
But in hop hop’s current sea of mediocrity, Shabazz Palaces are floating on a slipstream of artistic integrity. With psychedelic beats for paddles and chatting poetic breeze for flow, the audience struggle to bounce in time with their off-kilter nuances, but can’t help but nod in agreement with their crusading direction away from convention. Again, a consensus of arms going up with the outfit’s rhetoric during ‘Youlogy’: “Let me make a toast with champagne to all the years that thuggin’ went mainstream, where stars rise and fall like organised regimes.”
Shabazz Palaces are packing heat. But the only thing that they are unloading on are the doors to hip hop’s perception and pedestrianism in a very brilliant way.