Over the last five or so years hip-hop seemed to have made a lot of space for the stranger and weirder side of the genre to show. Alongside the rise of bedroom producers like Lil B or Odd Future and acts like Death Grips that show that there are till many ways to approach, interpret and reinvent the genre. Shabazz Palacees are made up of Ishmael Butler of Digable Planets and Tendai Maraire, two artists that have been peddling their own unique takes of hip hop for over two decades now, well before this new outsider hip hop emerged, and manage to create some of the most unique music around..
Shabazz Palaces seem to have as much in common with the cosmic stargazing of Sun Ra or sci-fi techno of Drexiya than they do with contemporary hip hop. The group's debut, 2011's Black Up, appeared with song structures that avoided conventions with dense electronic influenced beats. It balanced a left field with the approachable as glittering synths and samples twisted beyond easy recognition make for an alien feel while synthesizer bass lines and treated vocals hint at a synthetic and artificial world. Shabazz Palaces music aims for a point where the line between technology and biology is blurred, and they're getting even closer on their follow up Lese Majesty.
Forerunner Foray features the kind of electronic futurism of acts from the Hyperdub roster in the blips and bleeps that rise and fall over the beat, broken apart by soulful female vocals stretched out to a crawl. They Come In Gold hits harder and stranger, a vocal is twisted into a melody under lines like 'we converse in ancient languages' as they map out a psychedelic interstellar journey.
Lese Majesty's beats flit between the loose and easy J Dilla style to the rigid drum machine beats. #CAKE opts for machine noises and 4/4 808 whilst Colluding Oligarchs stumbles and lurches forward with an off-centre rolling drum beat. The way the duo use samples isn't just as a backdrop for the lyrics, they feel integral to the immersion that Lese Majesty demands, as sounds often swallow up the voices or at least take equal space in the dense production. The album blends together into one ever-changing shape, retreating then re-emerging in a new form, MindGlitch Keytar TM Theme appears like a lost post-punk record, jagged and uneasy before Motion Sickness floats forth almost beat-less, bleeps of spaceship computers abound, over a bass line light enough to sound like it exists in zero gravity.
Listening to the album is taking a trip to another world that I don't fully understand, song titles and lyrics are often impenetrable, but a definitely enjoy my time there. Lese Majesty is an intricate and detailed place that demands that you invest your time to explore. Amongst a style that has embraced lo-fi grit, noise and experimentation more than ever in recent years, Shabazz Palaces shows a pair of musicians that can do strange and make it sincere in a way that outs the newcomers to shame.