Seattle hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces create their own norms on their two Quazarz albums | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Seattle hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces create their own norms on their two Quazarz albums 

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Shabazz Palaces

Shabazz Palaces

Victoria Kovios

Last June, when Rolling Stone contributor Andrew Matson asked Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler about the negative critiques of social media he’d gleaned from the songs on the Seattle duo’s 2017 albums, Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines and Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star, Butler deflected him, responding, “No, it’s not mostly negative. I just feel like [social media is] too much. It’s too widely accepting without being considered. That’s all.” The interaction reminds me of how critics too often read Shabazz Palaces’ most far-out qualities in comparison to what’s hot at the moment—the music is “delightfully experimental” (the Quietus), filled with “discordant sounds and bizarro abstract lyrics” (Pitchfork), and, uh, whatever mind-numbing hyperbolic drivel A.V. Club writer Clayton Purdom tried to pass off as insight. The point usually concerns where Shabazz Palaces stand in hip-hop, be it in relation to Butler’s past as a member of Digable Planets or in some sort of absurd conversation with current mainstream fare, but all that overthinking ignores the fact that whatever they put out is a natural extension of their personalities—they aren’t actively trying to be weird so much as they’re expressing themselves in a way that’s normal and makes sense to them. And that’s what I find so endearing about Shabazz Palaces: their ability to create a space of their own where their hazy, funk-inflected soundscapes, metallic-overdubbed vocals, and interstellar lyrics are the only sounds that matter. Though the band didn’t initially envision their Quazarz albums as a pair, Sub Pop released them both on the same July day last year. As Butler told Bandcamp, Shabazz Palaces had already put Jealous Machines to bed when he traveled to LA and emerged from a brief stint at an local studio with the songs that became Born as a Gangster Star. Intent aside, by releasing the albums in tandem, Shabazz Palaces built a hip-hop galaxy. Though it’s not without its faults, the joint release is as immersiveas it is imposing in size.   v

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