Album Review: Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

11 years ago view-show 1,100,781


Artist: Shabazz Palaces

Album Title: Black Up

Label:Sub Pop

Release Date: June 28, 2011
With a name like Shabazz Palaces, your first thought might’ve been a bohemian, Afrocentric, 5 percent rap group that narrowly escaped the 90s.  If this was your first impression, at least you were on the right path. My first thought was, ‘who the f*** are these guys, where did they come from, and how did they garner such notoriety?’ As it turns out, Palaceer Lazaro, front man and only recognizable member of Shabazz Palaces, is none other than former Digable Planet emcee Ishmael “ButterflyButler. Although he and his enigmatic Seattle band have kept a noticeably low profile, abstaining from social network sites and literally doing a handful of interviews, Shabazz Palaces have developed somewhat of a strong following in the subterranean world due to their EPs and curiosity about the group. With the release of Black Up, an album title as inscrutable as the band name itself, Shabazz Palaces takes listeners on a mystifying musical odyssey.

As the album begins with “Free Press and Curl,” Shabazz Palaces makes one thing clear; they don’t give a flying 747 f*ck about conventional methods. They may not be as obscene or as blatant as Tyler, the Creator, but they don’t have to be.  Shabazz Palaces truly and literally let their music speak for themselves.  However, speaking for them is another thing, and quite honestly, it’s a difficult task.  With ten tracks, each spinning in retrograde fashion, the task of selecting a “stand out” track is even harder.  Listen to the album enough, however, and you’ll definitely gain an ear for the brightest, celestial track. Indeed, take “An Echo from the Host,” a darker, sinister sibling of “A Mili.” Although slower in comparison, the track still bangs in a Henry Evans kind of way. “Youlogy” is practically a song within a song. Beginning as an organized confused sound of drums and kicks, the track transitions into a mellow but grungy, jazz groove. In addition, Lazaro cleverly plays off of the eulogy concept and addresses the suicide route mainstream artists take by chasing materialistic dreams. In “Can You…Are You…Were You…,” Lazaro takes a more direct and blatant stab at the mainstream as he raps bluntly, “f*ck they rules, it’s a feeling.”

Even when it comes to topics such as love, Lazaro takes an unorthodox approach. Take for instance the ridiculously titled track “Treatease Dedicated to the Avian Airess from North East Nubis,” which in bohemian rap language probably translates to “girl, lets get to cuttin’.”  As comical as it sounds, the beat is far from romantic and the hook is a clear indicator of what he truly wants. If the lyrics “I want to be there/ I should be in there/ let me be in there/ I want to be there/ I wish I am there all the time,” aren’t a big enough sign that he wants to get his David Banner on, I’m not sure what is. Other stand out tracks include the soulful and jazzy tune “Endeavors for Never,” which features the soulful rap duo Theesatisfaction, and “Swerve… the Reeping of All That Is Worthwhile,” which might be the only single worthy cut on the entire album.

If any misstep should be mentioned on this album, it would be the arid production on “Recollections of the Wraith.” Limited to a primordial bass drum and kick, this is perhaps the most lackluster song on the entire album. If it wasn’t for the sultry female voice of Cat from Theesatisfation, this would definitely have many of you in REM before you could close your eyes. Nevertheless, this is a pretty solid album which proves Lazaro is one helluva of a song writer. Although, lyrically his bars and concepts don’t extend beyond their limits as much as the production does, he has an innate gift of timing and synchronizing his voice to the point where it feels as if it’s part of the song.

I must admit, I thought this was an overrated album given to an underrated artist. However, with each listen, I caught something that I haven’t heard before. With that said, there’s definitely an underlying tone to the album and it can’t be caught by merely skimming through or nodding your head. For those un-daring in their musical taste, this album may go no further than the shelf.  However, if you were a fan of Shabazz Palaces since day one (literally), you will definitely enjoy this album. Because Shabazz Palaces is more subterranean than most underground artists, it will no doubt be years before the rest of the world catches light of their glow. Nonetheless, I don’t believe Shabazz would have it anyway.

Let’s face it – judging an album on a scale of 1 to 5 mics just won’t cut it — that’s more of a magazine thing. After constant office arguments regarding album ratings, we’ve decided to revise our album review process and fairly judge an artist’s work across multiple avenues. At, we believe every album deserves an impartial review, taking into account both music and cultural relevance.


Purchase Black Up on iTunes