Seattle’s innovative tandem has returned. Rapper Palaceer Lazaro (formerly Butterfly of Digable Planets) and well-versed instrumentalist Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire unite to form the experimental hip-hop group known as Shabazz Palaces. The resulting sound is something that cannot possibly be confined to a single genre, rather it’s shuffled under the experimental hip-hop umbrella for lack of a truly descriptive label. With a sound that is rooted in African drum beats and Ishmael’s jazz hip-hop roots, the two whirl the music in the opposite direction by introducing modulated synths and echoing vocals.
Lese Majesty, the second full-length album from Shabazz Palaces, has no shortage of the effect-driven experimental production that the group has become known for. Although longer than their previous album, the beats on Lese Majesty contain enough variety to keep this audible journey through the cosmos fresh from start to finish. In similar fashion to 2004’s Madvillainy, Shabazz Palaces opts for a longer tracklist with a faster pace, with many songs being around or below the two-minute mark. That format works well with their sound, keeping you on your toes while preventing repetition.
Palaceer Lazaro’s abstract lyrics could easily be overlooked on an album that isn’t necessarily focused on driving home a message. The altered vocals serve as another instrument to be layered into the deep soundscape. They blend right in with Maraire’s blissful production, but a closer look reveals a deeper side to the album. Palaceer’s lyrics are a commentary on modern rap, calling out the new kids in the game whom he sees abusing the culture for their own personal advance. Discontent with the avaricious fresh faces and their misguided intent, Ishmael Butler comes across as a veteran wishing to address and counteract the lèse-majesté that he feels has been committed.
The abstract lyrics leave much to the imagination, a grandiose jigsaw puzzle waiting for you to piece it together. At times the lyrics can be too abstract for their own good, causing the meaning to be lost in a nonsensical confusion. Then there are times when they’re just meant to be fun. I swear, the lyrics on “Solemn Swears” go “I bank in France like Jack Palance / I make ‘em dance just at a glance / I don’t eat pork like Mr. Roarke / I’m very nice, like Jerry Rice”, and it’s retardedly bop.
If you want to compare this to Black Up, it’s not quite there, but why would you expect it to be? Lese Majesty takes a different approach and is another success for Shabazz Palaces. The highs aren’t as high. Some of the songs sound like unfinished ideas that still need another layer of polish. Some of the songs have a little too much distortion, causing them to be unclear. It’s not without flaws, but the triumphs of Lese Majesty make them a lot less noticeable. At the end of the day, there is no one making anything that sounds like Shabazz Palaces. The celestial vocals of Palaceer Lazaro layered over exquisitely non-traditional production from Tendai Maraire make Lese Majesty one of the most unique projects of 2014. The seven suites are not only easy on the ears, but they also offer depth for those listeners wishing to dig deeper than the smooth sounds.