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Shabazz Palaces return with cosmic musings on hip-hop, identity, and black consciousness

Shabazz Palaces won’t ever make a single. The conceptual whole is sacred to MC and producer Ishmael Butler, who spit funky rhymes with trio Digable Planets back in the ’90s. Shabazz Palaces’ 2011’s Black Up peered inward, waxing poetic on black consciousness, while latest Lese Majesty projects outward, macro, mapping a lonely Martian’s movement through this Earth and beyond.


Butler has always been fascinated with outer worlds (his Seattle crew goes by the name Black Constellation), and Lese Majesty spans universes, sonically and otherwise. The record is lithe, jumping from lysergic R&B in “Ishmael” to keytar solos in “Mind Glitch Keytar TM Theme” to soulful musings about money on “Motion Sickness.” In this way Lese Majesty is Butler’s most extreme refusal of the hip-hop status quo, boasting erratic instrumentals and subtle shit-talk toward haters subverting the canon.

Yet he also provokes world-bending revelations and a snicker in a single turn of phrase. Butler compares himself to both Samuel L. Jackson and Mickey Rourke in “Solemn Swears,” a minute later confessing on “Noetic Noiromantics,” “I thought that maybe I felt all there is to be / Yeah there’s a notion growing throughout me, newly.”

Butler’s most powerful weapon is language, more so than his masterful use of dusty jazz samples. The record is peppered with syllable contortions and mention of obscure terms, both from him and the terrific Catherine Harris-White lending vocals. “The brontides screech every time we kiss / We converse in an ancient language,” he oozes in “They Come In Gold.” A brontide is an explosive sound believed to come from earth tremors. Fittingly, Lese Majesty resounds just as seismic.

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