The Universe of Shabazz Palaces

The Universe of Shabazz Palaces
Photo Credit: Nikki Benson, SSG Music
My motivation isn't linear or recognizable in a quantifiable way," explains Seattle musician and Digable Planets member, Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler, of his latest group project Shabazz Palaces. Black Up, Shabazz's official debut, is the first rap release from cult indie label Sub Pop – and that, plus the group's cryptic rise and surrealist aura, has led to a lot of eager and speculative press attention.

Instead of defining the intricacies of Black Up's dense, outré beats and intricate rap poetics, Butler – who also goes by Palaceer Lazarro – prefers journalists, bloggers and listeners infer their own meaning. "It has to accomplish the intention on its own because I won't feel like we did our thing," he explains. "You don't want to start realizing your own importance prior, know what I'm saying? It's for others to recognize."

However, striving for "the flyest horizon" is central to Shabazz Palaces' ethos: their multimedia approach culls lavish, Arabesque motifs, Afrocentric themes, and spacey imagery, like the soundtrack to an alternate plane where astronautic travel originated with the Bedouins. Creating the ten tracks on Black Up was an instinctual odyssey, as Butler describes: "It's like dreaming of doing something you can't do in real life… jumping off a building and flying, or being in some distant kind of extraterrestrial setting. It's just a real exhilaration."

Butler says the elevation of Shabazz's hypnagogic style (oft labelled "avant-rap") in comparison to traditional, 16-bar-hook-repeat, rap is a little short-sighted. "I don't even know what that means," counters the Rick Ross fan, when asked if he thinks his music is avant-garde. He aims similar scepticism at blog tittering over wordy song titles like, "An Echo From the Hosts That Profess Infinitum," and "The King's New Clothes Were Made By His Own Hands." It's fun to do, he points out, and not the first time it's been done either. "These are the people who are supposed to covet words!"