Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

written by: June 17, 2011
Release Date: June 28, 2011


As up-and-coming participants in the hip-hop community have ostensibly taken the game to the web, blog buzz undoubtedly factors into an act’s visibility. And while this occasionally spurs impressive prolificacy (it’s okay if you want to take a breather, Lil B), it obviously doesn’t guarantee quality (see: Lil B). So if the upstarts from OFWGKTA represent the A-bomb in the war for online rap supremacy, Shabazz Palaces is more akin to something like a submarine.

Shabazz Palaces is headed by Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler of Digable Planets renown, and indie mainstay Sub Pop has just released the group’s first full-length, Black Up, following two self-released EPs (both deserve a listen from anyone who enjoys this LP). Aside from this, little is known about the shadowy group, which makes for a refreshing approach in a genre whose contributors frequently delight in unabashed boastfulness. It’s not that Shabazz Palaces is too cool for hip-hop’s flashier indulgences, but logic dictates the less the listener knows about the artist, the more he or she can focus on the music itself. This concept is almost novel in a society where privacy seems increasingly more like a luxury rather than a right.

Now, a perfectly sensible response question: how’s the music? Does it warrant the closely guarded secrecy, which in itself goes a long way toward generating hype? Happily, yes it does. Newcomers unfamiliar with the progressive craftsmanship established on Shabazz Palaces’ previous efforts might not immediately take to the stark production and loopy lyricism on Black Up, but anyone willing to submit himself to a few attentive listens will likely come away pleased, not perturbed.

The production on Black Up recalls the work of another mysterious hip-hopper, Death Grips, whose recently released Exmilitary features a similarly chilly, glitchy sound. But while Death Grips gleefully hurls himself against sledgehammer beats well-suited for his shouted verses, the sonic collages on Black Up sound tailor-made to complement the group’s quick yet unforced delivery.

Shabazz Palaces also include some arrestingly off-the-wall touches, eerie howls that call to mind passing trains in the night or a child’s pleading sobs.

Admittedly, high-minded, excessively long song titles like “An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum” or “A Treatease Dedicated to The Avian Airess from North East Nubis (1000 Questions, 1 Answer)” suggest cryptic masturbation à la The Mars Volta, the reality is much less of a slog. For instance, “A treatease” is simply about a pick-up attempt. As far as subject matter goes, that’s fairly pop-friendly, which is to say no one should go into Black Up expecting Shabazz Palaces to intentionally befuddle its audience.

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up Tracklist:

  1. “Free Press and Curl”
  2. “An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum”
  3. “Are You. Can You. Were You? (Felt)”
  4. “A Treatease Dedicated to The Avian Airess from North East Nubis (1000 Questions, 1 Answer)”
  5. “Youlogy”
  6. “Endeavors For Never (the Last Time We Spoke You Were Not Here. I Saw You Though.)”
  7. “Recollections of the Wrath”
  8. “King’s New Clothes Were Made By His Own Hands, The”
  9. “Yeah You”
  10. “Swerve… the Reeping of All That is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding)”