"Lese Majesty" review: Shabazz Palaces demands attention, if you'll give it - Reverb

Album review: Shabazz Palaces, “Lese Majesty”

Album review: Shabazz Palaces, "Lese Majesty"

Album review: Shabazz Palaces, “Lese Majesty”

If hip-hop is dead, Shabazz Palaces have come for the corpse. The brain—full of the same tired mantras, base addictions and lazy abstraction—isn’t of much use. But as a vehicle, the body—the rhythms, the rhymes and an emphasis on style—is. All it needs is a new master.

With “Lese Majesty,” the Seattle duo have stitched together a beast that’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 that’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. “Make no mistake,” Ishmael Butler said in a recent interview with NPR, “this is an attack.” But extricating meaning from Butler’s phrases is as difficult as getting gum out of your hair. Obscure premonitions like “See the wings clash against the glistening purple clips / Eurhythmic, a phasing shift” (“Dawn In Luxor”) sound damn cool, but they’re perhaps no more insightful than a Yin Yang twins song if the listener can’t (or isn’t willing to try) to make heads or tails of it.

If you are willing to give it the attention it demands, there’s a lot to marvel at on “Lese Majesty.” The sound palette is mysterious and almost alien, undoubtedly different from every other hip-hop album you’ll hear this year. “They Come In Gold” 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. (“Legends carry like a killer’s nerves / One picture’s worth a thousand swerves.”) If you’re in the mood for something conventional, the 4/4 “#CAKE” is the Shabazz take on a banger. But even it—like this fascinating goblin of an album as a whole—has a glimmer of the surreal behind its eyes. Unsettling as it can be, “Lese Majesty” is a breath of fresh air that only Shabazz Palaces could have conjured up.

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Dylan Owens is Reverb’s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.