From the outside, Shabazz Palaces’ second album looks like a self-important exercise in excess. It premiered at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. Track titles include ‘Colluding Oligarchs’, ‘Harem Aria’ and ‘Divine Of Form’, all clustered into song-suites with similarly portentous names like ‘Murkings On The Oxblood Starway’. The vinyl comes in a faux-sharkskin sleeve with initial copies pressed on purple, marbled wax.
It's all faintly ludicrous – but, you suspect, knowingly so. Where 2011’s ‘Black Up’ established Shabazz Palaces as one of the more adventurous duos in hip-hop, ‘Lese Majesty’ sees them don their space suits and jump out of the airlock, leaving normality behind. It's a full-on psychedelic odyssey full of tinkling synths, Drexciya-like techno, weird-ass time signatures and heady beats. It’s not quite Sun Ra: The Tommy Boy years, but it’s somewhere in that region.
They let you in easily. The opening trio (sorry, ‘The Phasing Shift’) is gauzy hip-hop, draped in Arpanet-style electronics, but also relatively conventional. That soon changes. ‘The Ballad of Lt. Maj. Winnings’ is almost formless, the vocals the only thread holding it together. It marks the start of a sequence of tracks that finds members Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire at their most cosmic.
Undoubtedly it will be too much for some hip-hop traditionalists. If you’re after blunted beats and wordplay that reaffirms your belief in rap as urban folk music, then you’re in for a shock. But for anyone looking for a mind-expanding trip to the outer edges of the solar system, these rap futurists are your guides.
Words: Will Salmon
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