Words About Music
Shabazz Palaces “Lese Majesty”
Shabazz Palaces is not the kind of band you enjoy on first listen. They’re the kind of band you listen to, are confused by, forget about for a couple months, then listen to again—repeatedly and enthusiastically—when you rediscover them in your iTunes library. They get inside your head and they don’t leave. The music that Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire make is psychedelic, trippy, conscious, and heavy. This is hip-hop for people who listen primarily to Flying Lotus and Aphex Twin. They proved themselves as a force to be reckoned with in 2011 when they put out their debut album “Black Up,” a 10-song fever dream that stood on the opposite side of the experimental hip-hop spectrum of groups like Death Grips and B L A C K I E. 2014 marks the group’s return with their sophomore LP “Lese Majesty.”
Right off the bat it’s plain that “Lese Majesty” is quite different from “Black Up.” For one, a lot of the songs on this album don’t pass the 2-minute mark. Rather than keep the beat switches and movements within 4-5 minute tracks like they did on “Black Up,” the group opted to keep them separated and instead section them off into seven “suites.” While this decision does sort of make the album feel more jumbled and more like a collection of ideas, it is also an example of Shabazz Palaces’ ability to destroy all preconceived notions of what a hip-hop album should look and sound like. While the first couple listens had me unsure of whether I enjoyed “Lese Majesty” or not, I can assure you that the more I listen, the more I find myself enjoying nearly everything about this album.
Don’t get me wrong, “Black Up” is superior to this album in my opinion. But Shabazz Palaces didn’t set out to make another “Black Up.” They set out to do what they do best, which is make rap music that was as un-rap as possible. The production on this album is as impeccable as it is on “Black Up,” but I must say that some of the lyrics on “Lese Majesty” are questionable, specifically on “Solemn Swears.” Other than that song, though, I find a lot of the lyrics sticking in my head for good reasons. “One picture’s worth a thousand swerves” is one I particularly enjoy just because I find it to be funny.
“Lese Majesty” is a risk in that Shabazz Palaces followed up a universally acclaimed album with one that is a progression into dreaminess and experimentation that goes even further than they’ve previously gone. Ishmael’s vocals are sometimes indecipherable and oftentimes soaked in reverb, but when you can understand what he’s saying it’s obvious that he’s not lost his touch for the most part. The best examples of this are “They Come in Gold” and “…down 155th in the MCM Snorkel.” Oh yeah, the song titles are still as gnarly and warped as their music. “Lese Majesty” is not an album that everyone will enjoy, even if they enjoyed “Black Up,” but to me it’s an experience that rivals “Black Up” as one of the decade’s most powerful and thought-provoking hip-hop releases.
SCORE – 8.4
FAVORITE TRACKS – Dawn in Luxor, Forerunner Foray, They Come in Gold, Noetic Noiromantics, …down 155th in the MCM Snorkel, #CAKE, Colluding Oligarchs, Motion Sickness, New Black Wave