Review: Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

The continued anonymity with which Shabazz Palaces operate their unit was confusing at first, but its intentions have been making a whole lot of sense as the Seattle-based group released more of their excitingly abstract work over time. Main man Palaceer Lazaro, previously known as Butterfly of Digable Planets in another parallel universe, perpetuates the notion that knowing the entire backstory of how the music is made is irrelevant. The content that many of us seek when digging up the narrators of the tale doesn’t actually contribute to the experience of the product as it’s just a superficial formality. Musical stories should be able to be explored by the listeners themselves inside the sounds in an infinite number of ways. Though this might seem like a rather unattainable and overly idyllic thought at first, as you listen to Shabazz Palaces’ first full-length LP released on Sub Pop Records, you realize that such a bold statement can easily be made by a group that has practiced exactly what they preach: Black Up is a gripping rollercoaster of an album that has terrific, memorable stories to tell by itself in just over thirty-five minutes.

Shabazz Palaces have been around for roughly five years now and have previously released first two EPs over the course of last year. Though their self-titled debut EP and the Of Light EP were great examples of progressive hip-hop, they lacked a certain element of disposition and cohesion in having their ‘own’ sound, as they seemed more like an explorative journey that the group themselves were taking during which listeners were allowed to peek along for their ride. Black Up is maturely different: from the first moment up until the very end it seems as though you’re being pulled into an adventure of your own, being thrown around in polar different atmosphere settings and still allowed having the space to draw your own conclusions on what the meaning of it all is.

On first listen, the immaculate production and general sonic make-up on each of the ten tracks on this album is what stands out and consumes you in a way that almost seems to overpower the lyrics. Free Press and Curl is an extremely powerful and persuasive kickstart to the album, that moves from strong, hard-headed beats to wandering hopeful vocals in concord. This quickly moves on to being whirled into an entirely different world in An Echo from the Hosts that Profess Infinitum, a haunting number that clutches you with its echoed background noise that somewhat resembles the sounds of children’s cries being warped into entrapment as Lazaro’s verses remain calm, concise and established within a confident flow that blends into the track eerily well. More proof of the mind-numbing grasp that the productions have on you is Youology, where the mood transitions seamlessly from a courageous attitude in the first half to a woozy, ethereal haze in the second half with lyrics pillaring it that point to a movement in the entire track. On the other hand, Recollections of Wrath is an example of a different kind of setting that the album is able to display, with a stripped down, resonating beat that is supported by warm vocals that somehow seem disjointed despite being impressively moving.

Shabazz Palaces – An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum by subpop

The narration that’s done throughout the album reads like thought processes and a stream of consciousness, rather than individual statements being made. The breadth of the mood settings that can be traced back into the productions tie in perfectly with this free-falling narration style as all the verses seem to perfectly synchronize each of the beats that it controls. While most lyrics will require you to listen back five times and think back at least a dozen times to really form your own apprehension of it, a lot of lighter, quirkier and catchy lines are also to be found on Black Up. The final track of the album, Swerve the Reeping of All that is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding), is perhaps the most in-your-face in its lyricism of all the tracks, with support from fellow Seattlians THEESatisfaction which ends in an accumulation of definitions of Black in “Black is me /Black is you /Black is us /Black is free“, probably with a little reference to the many definitions given to “Funk” by Lazaro himself in another lifetime along with the other Digable Planets on Escapism (Gettin’ Free), but most importantly a nod to The Last Poets’ Black Is (Chant).

All in all, Black Up is an incredibly impressive work by an extremely promising and talented group of individuals that, in their joint effort, have created an infallible and durable experience for their audience in all aspects of their art. From the visual settings (that have been composed by Dumb Eyes) to the morphing, evolving mastership of the productions on this album, everything falls into place just perfectly. If Shabazz Palaces maintain their obscurity to allow their musical work to speak for itself, then Black Up is a screaming success.

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up is out now on Sub Pop Records.

Shabazz Palaces – Swerve… by subpop

Sindhuja Shyam

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