Features | Unison / Harmony 2014

Shabazz Palaces

By Brent Ables | 19 December 2014

Lese Majesty is one long thought. It’s a singular exclamation in a wiser ancient tongue, a pure hue refracted through the prism of the English language into 18 different shades. What it communicates, and the way it communicates, is new; it eschews the “comfort of the uninventive.” It will dismantle your expectations of what a hip-hop album should be and polish the pieces to a fine obsidian veneer before reconstructing them in a baroque monument to discontinuous epiphany. And then feed you cake.

Everything here fits together. But there’s no blueprint; the rules are created by Shabazz Palaces as they go along, and you’re in on the game. Unlike Black Up (2011), which stared you down as it slapped you awake, this record does feel like something to be, strictly speaking, played. Even to write about it here feels wrong; these songs aren’t documents but “languages for dancing.” Lese Majesty represents the best kind of experimental music, where the joy of the experiment is the most palpable thing. There is a song called “Mind Glitch Keytar TM Theme,” and it rules.

Black Up was brilliant, but a bit too cold for me: I felt locked out rather than locking into those beats, uniformly commanding though they were. Here the tones are warmer, more welcoming, and once those chords start chording in “Forerunner Foray” I find myself sinking into some kind of trance that doesn’t break its hold even after “Sonic MythMap for the Trip Back” deposits me on the other side of the solar system. So gorgeous and intricate is the music here that it runs the risk of obscuring Ishmael Butler’s lyricism, which would be a shame since Butler is among the deepest and most eloquent emcees working today. If you need evidence of this, look no further than opener “Dawn in Luxor,” where Butler’s language dances across the strictures of grammar and sense to ensure its creator a place among “modern cubists or surrealists.” That the music bears out this content in its form ensures the success of Butler’s high-art ambitions: the result is no less a party. Here, “sounds pour like golden licks of time.” Make some for them.