Shabazz Palaces - Lese Majesty

by Pete Super Rating:10 Release Date:2014-07-28

Is Ishmael Butler jazz incarnate? Has he traversed space and time to return as a pure manifestation of rhythm and language? What does he know that eludes the rest of us? What is his deal, man?

From the first strains of Dawn in Luxor we are pulled into a gauzy flow of cosmic reverberations, stardust, and astral trash that flexes and shimmers and moans. It's at once melodic, amorphous, sexy, and impossibly funky. Can a song be intense and mellow? Apparently the answer is: yes, it can. And this is just the first four minutes of Shabazz Palaces' new soul-shaking, mind-fuck Lese Majesty.

Lese Majesty is a reference to archaic laws against insult to a state or sovereign. I think in this case the powers-that-be Shabazz Palaces wish to upset are our very senses themselves. Not just our expectations of the way songs unfold and music presents itself, but our ability to attach a linear narrative to it for future reference. They wish to provoke an elevated, if not disoriented, state of mind.

Much like their initial full-length volley, Black Up, in 2011, all the songs are sequenced to flow together, giving the record an immersive depth. On Black Up, each of the 10 tracks was a mini-suite of a main song and one or two shorter songs. On Lese Majesty, we have 18 tracks which are components of seven suites. Perhaps it's a bit easier to navigate the celestial maze this way. But still, be careful – one could get lost in there (It's full of stars!). Maybe this is why the last track is titled 'Sonic MythMap for the Trip Back'.

Gone from the mix is anything easily identified as a straight-up sample. It sounds constructed much the way Shabazz Palaces performs live, with each track evolving into being before our eyes/ears. On that note, Shabazz Palaces is refreshing in the hip hop genre because their music isn't an overly slick, cut-and-paste job. Each track feels like an organic performance dialed in on the fly, yet perfect in it's intention and articulation.

Also refreshing are lyrics free of typical forms of brag and swag. Butler (aka Palaceer Lazaro/Butterfly) also often allows the deep, crackling subsonic bass and swirls of reverberating, chiming dissonance to swallow the vocal track in the mix, something we could never imagine Jay-Z or Kanye would do.

Lyrics get into the surreal in one turn and allusions to social issues in the next, often peppering the proceedings with some cosmic references: “Focus/ The light that names/ Just like the heavens and the stars/ Reclaim us/ To further along the spaceways”. These are the first lines of 'Dawn in Luxor'. Later, on 'Ishmael', we get the closest thing to an explanation we're ever likely to in the simple line: “All of our stories told in codes”. That pretty well sums it up.

I've heard people, at a loss to classify this music, lump it together with the likes of Death Grips or clipping, but this isn't really an accurate association. There's a deeper and more critical understanding of genre, musical history and melody at work with Shabazz Palaces than the equation: rap + noise. After all, this is the man who was the architect of the most deft synthesis of live instrumentation, programmed beats, samples and rhyme to come out of hip hop's early 1990's renaissance, the sublime Blowout Comb by Digable Planets.

Together with right-hand-man multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire, Butler has crafted a beguiling, endlessly fascinating and gorgeous intergalactic communication. Where he went and what he learned there he will only relate to us less evolved life-forms through these sonic illustrations. I have a feeling if he spoke to us in his true voice we would probably just catch fire and our eyeballs would melt out of our heads. But it would sound amazing.

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