Shabazz Palaces is fronted by a real poet in his 40s. That in itself is a contrarian blast to the mundane whims of regular pop, rock, or rap music. The fact that Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler chops and drifts out rhymes you will never forget -- even something as bitter bone-home as “We believe in our TVs and buy cake with our rent” -- but then goes ultra-violent with musical creativity and webs textures and spacey, haunted places out of molding-crates of soul and groove goodness growing up in his ‘Nam-era, Boeing-employed grandfather’s neighborhood: Seattle’s Central District. From the jazz-rap fluidity of his original Digable Planets group, to the Palaceer Lazaro persona he created for Shabazz’s densely ferocious and urban-ambient two debut EPs (s/t and Of Light), the various guest spots and joints (currently with about-to-blow-up THEESatisfaction) have culminated in the black velvet-encased sounds of Black Up, the most adult (as in something to say and cask-aged strong in saying it) album of the year. Look out for Butler and comrade/mbira maven Tendai Maraire to be joined live by THEE Stasia and her partner Cat into evoking some truly elegant, genre-defying, electromagnetic language and rhythm before your very eyes and ears.
Al Green was playing through the Music Lounge speakers as the early morning crowd (I consider noon on a Saturday “early-morning”) trickled in for the first performance of Bumbershoot 2011. On stage, Butler and Maraire were all smiles as they made some final adjustments on their setup that included a laptop, beat pad, a pair of hand drums, and some assorted off-beat hand instruments. They began the set with a cacophony of sounds giving the impression of street noise, without of their sounds or beats resembling any element of the street in particular; nevertheless, a sense of horns honking, street lights flashing, jackhammers hammering, and general urban hustle and bustle spread up the aisles of the Lounge as Butler rapped: “Money is the mind frame / Young is the prime age / Born. Sex. And that’s it. / Into space goes the crime rate.” For the next half hour, Shabazz Palaces took the Music Lounge audience on an intimate sonic and poetic odyssey, through space and under water as Butler rhymed and moved with awe-inspiring intensity and focus. They ended the set with “A Mess...,” after which a perspired Butler left the stage to and signed a few autographs. Though the ladies of THEESatisfaction never joined Shabazz Palaces on stage (though they were in attendance), it was an engrossing performance that certainly shook any hung-over or groggy attendees into the right frame of mind for the rest of the weekend. We bop hard!