Seattle’s Ishmael Butler, AKA Butterfly of the Digable Planets, has effortlessly transformed himself, departing from the golden age roots that he’ll eternally be known for. Fifteen years after “Rebirth of Slick,” Butler emerges with an evolved take on his format. His new project Shabazz Palaces is lyrical and abstract, but it’s not pushing for artsy appeal. The music is trippy and tasty, and the only intentional intrigue lies in the promotion (the band forgoes interviews, explanations, and social media for sheer mystery).
Butler doesn’t go by Butterfly anymore. Now he’s Palaceer Lazaro, the enigmatic, sincere, and harsh-worded persona behind Shabazz Palaces.
Following two self-released EPs in 2009, Shabazz dropped Black Up last month on Sub Pop, the label’s first hip hop record on its roster. The full-length record features collaborators from Butler’s network of lyrical and beat artists, but the record focuses on the sounds and not the artists that make them. Only the female rap duo THEESatisfaction is credited on the record.
While the tracks follow the rhythmic patterns of traditional hip-hop, melodic samples ebb and flow punctuated by discordant clumps of sound. Secondary voices bubble by beneath Butler’s foreground lyrics, which take on a tone more serious and abrasive than his Butterfly past.
Cryptically political and overtly experimental, Shabazz Palaces addresses the void between rap and intelligence without the preachiness of conscious hip-hop. Alongside artists like the lauded Death Grips and Brainfeeder’s first MC, Jeremiah Jae, Shabazz marks a shift in underground rap sensibilities, moving away from the traditional format and opening it up to interpretation.
Ishmael Butler, Tendi Maraire