Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week.
With the exception of punk, no genre has been declared “dead,” been “revitalized,” or a “shell of what it was” more than hip-hop.
So take the next statement with a grain of salt:
Shabazz Palaces, a hip-hop group from Seattle led by Digable Planets’ Ishmael Butler, are reinventing hip-hop in a way that reinforces the genre as a vital, important art form.
No other group in hip-hop is as forward-looking as Shabazz Palaces, and that includes Odd Future:
Following two mysterious EPs (2009’s Shabazz Palaces and Of Light)—which Butler released into the ether of the Internet without promotion or even announcing their existence—Shabazz Palaces signed to Sub Pop, which is releasing the group’s debut LP, Black Up, this month.
Black Up more than delivers on the promise of those EPs, deconstructing and rebuilding hip-hop as an unclassifiable new product.
Black Up is experimental to a point—it has no traditional choruses and verses that are highly impressionistic—but also traditional: Butler’s song matter can often veer towards light gangster-isms. With song titles as long as limericks—and beats that are the furthest you can get from boom-bap—Black Up is an album that demands deep listening. And even then you never really get the feeling you’re completely zeroing in on what Butler wants you to take from the album.
That might be a weird way to sell an album—that no matter how many times you spin it, you might not get anywhere close to grasping it completely—but it also makes Black Up a strong album of the year contender.
In a time when your favorite band’s attitudes about everything are broadcast on Twitter, there’s something beguiling in a group playing it so close to the chest. Butler even has been leery of taking interviews—and initially avoided confirming he was the dude from Digable Planets— instead preferring to read what people think of the music.
Lucky for him, his music is so deep, so inventive, so hard to pin down, that it’s open to enough interpretations to make any interview unnecessary.
— by Andrew Winistorfer