Shabazz Palaces, Lese Majesty

Nate Patrin

By Nate Patrin

on 07.29.14 in Reviews

Ishmael Butler, the vocal force behind Shabazz Palaces, traffics in a strain of Afrofuturism that refuses to jettison the past or charge headlong into tomorrow. A quiet survivor who first gained acclaim as a member of the ’90s hip-hop trio Digable Planets, Butler is too grounded and skeptical to be utopian, yet too self-assured for dystopia, and Lese Majesty is the clearest statement yet from abstract hip-hop’s calmest bomber. The album has all the heady info-overload you’d expect from something debuted at the Pacific Science Center Laser Dome, but it is grounded in a rich space between tradition and iconoclasm.

The clearest statement yet from abstract hip-hop’s calmest bomber

Organized into evocatively named thematic suites (“The Phasing Shift”; “Pleasure Milieu”; High Climb to the Gallows”) yet infused with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flashes of vivid ideas, the album both rounds out and streamlines Palaces’ sound. As a lyricist, Palaceer Lazaro interweaves familiar signifiers, hustler truisms and pop-culture namedrops into deeper meanings with layers upon layers. On “#CAKE” — which, per the opening refrain, Butler both has and eats — Baba Maraire’s beats swirl around and subsume Lazaro’s voice, so that he hides in plain sight. The album coalesces into gorgeous boomin’-system ambient (“Dawn in Luxor,” “Noetic Noiromantics”) and spot-welded 808 funk (“Forerunner Foray,” “The Ballad of Lt. Maj. Winnings”) that wraps spacious, melodic and percussive minimalism around a dense core of bass. A deep meditation that’s finely tuned and humane, Lese Majesty manages to be both insightful and enigmatic while still blowing your hair back.