Sunday, July 17, 2011

Clear Some
Space Out

Black Up
Sub Pop

Clear some space out, so we can space out.
-- "Recollections of the Wraith"

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

After two well received EPs, Seattle duo Shabazz Palaces re-
lease their first full-length on Sub Pop. It was worth the wait: a
coup for the label, city, band, and genre. After all, the Northwest
wasn't really known for hip-hop until Sir Mix-a-Lot came along.

Then later: Common Market, Blue Scholars, They Live, and Mash
Hall (among others), but none of them has broken out like NYC's
De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, or Digable Planets (Ishmael
Butler's previous act). Shabazz has the means to do just that.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

I'm dressing like I was at the Ali-Frazier fight.
-- "Recollections of the Wraith"

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

And by break out, I'm not referring to commercial success, but
cultural impact. Shabazz deserve to make a living at their craft,
but they push the envelope too far to conquer Top 40, where
Mix-a-Lot made his mark, yet I can see them winning over new
audiences if a forward-thinking crew like Outkast were to take
them on tour, so I hope André and Big Boi make that happen.

I'm not suggesting that Shabazz are sui generis; they didn't spring
from out of nowhere. They have roots and influences. And they're
part of a community that includes Champagne Champagne and
THEESatisfaction, the duo who lend their voices to a few cuts.

But Black Up is spacier and more experimental than most
hip-hop albums--most albums, period. The Other Music de-
scription, which references sax player Albert Ayler and rap-
per Divine Styler (Marc Richardson) isn't off the mark (and
maybe they'll inspire more people to rediscover the latter).

Further, they don't hesitate to use the "n" word, though they
don't use it often. Does that make them less progressive than
many critics have claimed? Well, they're certainly musically
adventurous, but if they spent much time listening to 1970s
Miles Davis in their younger days, and I suspect they did,
then they're probably more comfortable with the word than
their white fans--and Shabazz listeners appear to span the
spectrum in terms of race, age, gender, and sexual orien-
tation (the ladies in THEESatisfaction are openly gay).

So, I choose not to take them to task when I'd rather see them be
true to themselves than anything else. And it's their refusal to off-
er any easy hooks, choruses, or lyrical concepts that makes Black
work as well as it does. And yet it isn't a schizophrenic mess.

That's a hard trick to pull off, and I'm not exactly the biggest fan
of avant garde music, but their pop instincts emerge from time to
time, which serves as a sort of anchoring device. This record does-
n't float off into the air; it has some weight, some ballast. I love it.

Endnote: Ishmael Butler / Palaceer Lazaro image from Analog Giant.

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