Back in the early 90s, Digable Planets were critically acclaimed from every corner of hip-hop due to their rich sound, utilising jazz and swing samples to create a rap style that set itself apart from the aggressive rhyme style that was garnering international attention from artists such as ICe Cube at the time. Their lead rapper, known as 'Ish', or 'Butterfly', had such a laid back rhyme style that made him so effortlessly cool that he could ramble through a thesaurus and make it sound like the most engaging and entertaining thing in rap.
That was back in the 90s though, and it has been a LONG time since Ish has really been active on the album front. Digable Planets did reconvene at some point in the 2000s for various tours and such, and a mixtape came up co-signed by them that garnered some attention some 5-6 years ago, but since 'Blowout Comb' came in the mid-90s, they hadn't had a single 12", EP, as a group.
The other members, such as female emcee Ladybug Mecca and producer Doodlebug, have both been relatively quiet, but their DJ King Britt has moved into production over the past decade with great success and released a lot of well-recieved material. But how come Butterfly hasn't been seen? Other than an album called 'Bright Black' under the guise Cherrywine nothing had been heard from him for almost 15 years.
Well, he was cool like that back in the 90s, but now it was time for a rebirth of the slick. In 2010, he changed his rap moniker and released two strange yet enticing EPs, 'Of Light' and 'Shabazz Palaces'. The latter was also the name of his new project.
Well, Ish is back again as Shabazz Palaces' emcee leader and his full length LP 'Black Up' has hit the shelves, released by Sub-Pop Records. And it is STONKING.
The same laidback smooth rap style is prevalent and it endears you to the material instantly due to the memories from classics past coming flooding back into your consciousness. But its not the same words. Instead if it being about style, panache and freshness, Shabazz has a whole different agenda entirely. Yes, its still about style, but under yet another new name, the compelling Palaceer Lazaro, the style is palatial. Everything seems like a reference to some form of forgotten african monarchy in its sound and delivery, and the beats keep up this royal touch.
Speaking about the beats, they are out of this world. Literally. I'm pretty sure every review people will read about this album will use the phrase 'Space Age', but I for me its almost as much tribal and archaic as it is galactic. Its certainly forward thinking and different to anything else that has came out this year. The only name I can even throw up at this point that can even slightly explain this sound is Flying Lotus. But lets not confuse that for anything other than a reference point because Shabazz Palaces are set apart and alone in their approach
One thing I would say when approaching the album. Its not going to spawn a hit. Its not for everyone, and it definitely isn't going to be something you'll see on many mainstream sites. I would also urge for everyone who takes a listen to it to make sure its on some great speakers or great headphones, because the production value is fantastic. On tinny laptop speakers there's a good chance half of what you should be hearing will be lost.
For me its one of the best albums I've heard in 2011. Up there with Pharoahe Monch's "W.A.R.", which up to now has been one of the rare LPs that has had a lot of replay value as an entire entity for me. This album will be different to anything you've ever heard and you'll thank your lucky stars that that's the case. Time for that new Ish.
This is the final track off the new LP 'Black Up', and above in the article you will find the 2010 EP 'Shabazz Palaces' for more examples of the sound.
And finally, here is the stream of the full album as released by record label Sub Pop in the form of one youtube vid. Listen before you buy at any good record store worth its salt or at the above SUBPOP website: