Shabazz Palaces’ new album Black Up, is being called avant hip hop, for lack of a better term. Made up of former Digable Planets and Cherrywine member Ishmael ‘Butterfly’ Butler, it’s hip hop from the future, far afield from the mediocrity of the much of the American mainstream. Think glitchy, repetitive, stumbling beats that break across a backdrop of spacey, sci-fi type synths and dark tones. The opening track ‘Free Press and Curl’ throws down the gauntlet from the get go, the large, booming beat could fill dance floors despite being decidedly, and deliciously, ‘avant garde’.
Elements of Black Up sound more like the music was stripped from an early album on Warp Records or Planet Mu, productions that Chris Clark or Hudson Mohawke would be proud to put their name too. Still though, despite its quasi futuristic feel and electronica inspired tint, Black Up still manages to maintain soul, something West coast hip hop has embraced as far back as one can remember, the track ‘Are You… Can You… Were You?’ being testament to that, although, the laid back soul bubble is almost instantly popped as the next track drops, ‘A Treatease Dedicated To The Avian Airess from North East Nubis’, an odd stab at a love song one might hear in a far off Galaxy.
However, if anything sums up the brilliance and queer genius of Shabazz Palaces, it’s the track ‘Youlogy’. It would be the album single if they were concerned with that sort of thing. It’s got huge beats, catchy rhymes and beautifully twisted production littered with bizarre synth stabs and off kilter glitchy backdrops. Perhaps only ‘Endeavour for the Never’ challenges its brilliance. But it’s so hard to pick on an album of such dense quality.
Shabazz Palaces sound like no one else and that is where the beauty lies. They’ll be compared to a fleet of other ‘avant’ hip hop artists but the comparisons will be ultimately flawed, Black Up is gloriously refreshing. The only complaint I feel one can level against it is that it’s just too short at 36 minutes. We demand more.