Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, four takes on Lese Majesty by Shabazz Palaces.
Ali (@Egyptoknuckles, Background Noise Crew)
Black Up, the debut album from this Seattle based duo, made up of former Digable Planets member Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraie came after the duo released a couple of EP’s, was an exercise in experimentation that only your wildest mind could fathom. While their debut seemed to blaze through 41 minutes of their most concise and lush piece of work to date, Lese Majesty expands on that palette while not compromising the group’s ear of sonically electric and maximalist expectations. If Black Up was to serve as the preface as to what would be the shape of things to come, Lese Majesty serves more expansion, as the album briskly breezes through a whopping 18 tracks with relative ease, yet not losing one step as to the group’s journey into sound. Such tracks as the organ oozed “#CAKE,” providing glitchy vocals and 808 handclaps around, while “Forerunner Foray” grabs your attention with an almost southern-styled electro flair, while the open ended hi-hats and Hendrix-like guitars provides subtlety to “Noetic Noiromantics.” However, the album’s highlights come in the form of “New Black Wave,” with its spacey synths and subtle waterdrops providing an almost haunting backdrop. With Lese Majesty, Shabazz Palaces shows they have yet to let up on their adventurous experimentation, and it pays off with each full listen to the album as a whole.
Jon Jon, @SoundVerite
Ishmael Butler, aka Palaceer Lazaro, along with his sonic partner Tendai Maraire, are Shabazz Palaces. Shabazz Palaces seems to be on a mission to politic, exploring music in a post hip-hop landscape surrounded by the mysteries of the universe. Following up his Sub Pop debut 2011’s masterful Black Up, with Lese Majesty he stays in his lane, that is, that unique space between science, political, cultural traditions, self identity and be-bop, birthed in hip-hop’s weird first alternative division. Keep in mind, Lese Majesty premiered at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center, which make perfect sense. From “throwing cocktails at the Führer,” on “Dawn in Luxor” to considering conspiracy theories and celebratory shouts out to various black revolutionaries both musical and political.
Lese Majesty opens with a trio of the strongest tracks: “Dawn In Luxor”, “Forerunner Foray” and “They Come In Gold”. “Forerunner Foray” is soaked in sub bass and glittering drums, with dark ghostly vocals: “We respect Muhammad, peace upon him, connected with pirates …every time I rock it’s a tongue kiss”. “#CAKE” features Catherine Harris-White of THEEsatisfaction. Lines like “Party like a diplomat….life a bitch, but she’ll get you back” on “Motion Sickness” at first feel simple but their double meanings give them a more complex definition.
There’s no climatic moment as the record ends, it’s simply over. This is conceptual, groovy, thoughtful black art. No hooks, chorus or gimmicky catch phrases. This feels similar to Butler’s first group 20 years ago, Digable Planets, who fused hip-hop’s cool with jazz understated swing, opening new territory. In the spirit of Sun-Ra, Charles Mingus and KRS ONE, Shabazz Palaces keeps looking into where else hip-hop should go, without losing tradition, adding on to the culture great sonic explorers with respect to Fab Five Freddy, De La Soul and Divine Styler. Black New Wave, not quite, this is science.
In my mind Shabazz Palaces can basically do no wrong. The experimental hip hop duo hasn’t been incredibly prolific over their six year existence, however everything they have released (an album and a couple of Eps) has been top notch. And not only that, their live shows are consistently amazing (some feat for a band that is more or less trapped behind their drums/electronic devices). Their newest record Lese Majesty is a continuation of that high standard. In fact, I think it’s their best yet. It’s a bizarre document consisting of otherworldy hip-hop beats, cryptic afrocentric lyricism, and stone cold cool. So In a word, similar to what they’ve been put out in the past, stylistically speaking. To dismiss Lese Majesty as just “more of the same” though is a mistake. Unless by “the same” you mean some of the best, far-out, music that’s being produced today then yeah – it’s just more of that.
Like a hip-hop house of mirrors, Shabazz Palaces make music that is both entrancing and confounding, testing your senses in the best way possible. The duo have explored the cosmos through their interstellar brand of futuristic rap on the their self-released EPs and their Black Up debut from a few years back, their sound somehow continues to grow and evolve. Lese Majesty is as murky and complex as any of their releases, but still feels new and fresh. From the stuttering glow of opener “Dawn in Luxor” and “They Come in Gold” to the soulful strut of “Ishmael,” Lese Majesty is possibly the best recorded document the group have created yet. From the bubbling, confident “Forerunner Foray” to , it is an album that tests the limit of hip hop, funk, soul and electronic music. There are parts that pretty and parts that are spooky, but the whole album feels like a message from the future screaming “you are all so far behind….follow us!” I’m not sure if anyone will ever catch them, but I’m glad Shabazz Palaces continue to let us along for the ride.
Writer / co-founder