Album review: Shabazz Palaces, “Lese Majesty”By Dylan Owens | July 29th, 2014 | No Comments »
If hip-hop is dead, Shabazz Palaces have come for the corpse. The brainâ€”full of the same tired mantras, base addictions and lazy abstractionâ€”isnâ€™t of much use. But as a vehicle, the bodyâ€”the rhythms, the rhymes and an emphasis on styleâ€”is. All it needs is a new master.
With â€śLese Majesty,â€ť the Seattle duo have stitched together a beast thatâ€™s near unrecognizable from mainstream rap, one that’s focused on sparking the mind over bumping beats. Shabazz Palaces have always been about hip-hop but never of hip-hop, and thatâ€™s reinforced here. Its priorities are backwards: rhythms are unsettling instead of grounding, stirring and stopping on a whim before wandering into unfamiliar time signatures.
The words are no less oblique. You can gather from interviews with the duo that the album takes aim at the elder statesmen of hip-hop. â€śMake no mistake,â€ť Ishmael Butler said in a recent interview with NPR, â€śthis is an attack.â€ť But extricating meaning from Butlerâ€™s phrases is as difficult as getting gum out of your hair. Obscure premonitions like â€śSee the wings clash against the glistening purple clips / Eurhythmic, a phasing shiftâ€ť (â€śDawn In Luxorâ€ť) sound damn cool, but theyâ€™re perhaps no more insightful than a Yin Yang twins song if the listener canâ€™t (or isnâ€™t willing to try) to make heads or tails of it.
If you are willing to give it the attention it demands, thereâ€™s a lot to marvel at on â€śLese Majesty.â€ť The sound palette is mysterious and almost alien, undoubtedly different from every other hip-hop album youâ€™ll hear this year. â€śThey Come In Goldâ€ť for example, is based around a manipulated half-cry half-harpsichord clip that melts away when the chorus hits, but only returns in dampened yelps thereafter. Lyrics fly loose like a free-association game. (â€śLegends carry like a killerâ€™s nerves / One pictureâ€™s worth a thousand swerves.â€ť) If youâ€™re in the mood for something conventional, the 4/4 â€ś#CAKEâ€ť is the Shabazz take on a banger. But even itâ€”like this fascinating goblin of an album as a wholeâ€”has a glimmer of the surreal behind its eyes.Â Unsettling as it can be, “Lese Majesty” isÂ a breath of fresh air that only Shabazz Palaces could have conjured up.
Dylan Owens is Reverbâ€™s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazineÂ and the comment sections ofÂ WORLDSTARHIPHOP.