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July 28, 2014 | by  | in Arts Music |
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Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty [Review]

“To be us it takes leaps of faith,” so says Ishmael Butler, on Shabazz Palaces’ new album Lese Majesty. I’d agree. It takes a leap of faith to release a hip-hop album this progressive when so many seem content to rest in the commercial shallows or regress into ‘90s nostalgia. It takes a leap of faith to rap about pharaohs, stars and love when your fellow MCs are ranting about ‘ralph-level’ fashion. Fortunately for us, these are the kind of leaps Ishmael Butler specialises in. Butler isn’t a newcomer: he was one third of the sublime Jazz-Rap group Digable Planets. The trio released two excellent albums, in 1993 and ‘94, before breaking up in ‘95 to the dismay of hip-hop lovers past and present.

But, being the leaper he is, Butler returned. In 2009, Ish teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire to form Shabazz Palaces. The pair released two captivating EPs in 2009 before their masterful debut Black Up dropped 2011, showcasing a new strand of astral, futuristic hip-hop, infused with African instrumentation and digital wizardry.

Now, in 2014, we have Lese Majesty. The album is 18 tracks in all but only seven are more than three minutes. The typical hip-hop format of 16 bars followed by a hook is replaced by a more free form, unpredictable combination of verse and vocals. Butler’s flow is as slick as ever as he alternates between boasts, love lines, proverbs and strange visions like this from ‘Forerunner Foray’: “Black Stallions pull my Chariot/ My heart’s Broken/ Time travel fast and far/ To the last oceans.” Maraire works wonders on the beats. Stand-up bass is looped under handclaps, synths and autotune on the track ‘Ishmael’, while ‘They Come in Gold’ features the mid-track change-up to end all mid-track change-ups.

Lese Majesty’s best tracks are its longest; the middle section of the album suffers from a pinch too many one-minute sketches, but even these brim with an adventurous spirit. Shabazz Palaces have delivered a sophomore album worth your attention. Here’s hoping they continue taking leaps of faith for years to come.


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