Shabazz Palaces

Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines

Sub Pop

Jul 18, 2017 Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear Bookmark and Share


Find It At: AMAZON | AMAZON

On their dusty space-rap debut, Black Up, and then on its abstract follow up Lese Majesty, Seattle hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces established their output as belonging more to the art gallery than the streets. Led by the Palaceer Lazaro (also known as Ishmael Butler, who formerly was a member of jazz-rap group Digable Planets), the group takes its head-trip aesthetic down thoughtful and conceptual avenues. Their ambitious new two-album project, centered around an interstellar-traveler character called Quazarz, is their most fun and thematically rich work, though it still makes no concessions for those new to Shabazz Palaces' weirdness.

Divorced of the two albums' story and context, Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star has a distinct personality and sounds more grounded, whereas Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines is amorphous and much more elusive. It has stronger singles, too; "Shine a Light" may be the closest thing to a traditional rap track the duo has yet released, with its sampled strings loop backing up an actual catchy hook and the Palaceer's effortless flow. Meanwhile, instrumental tracks such as "Dèesse Du Sang" and "The Neurochem Mixalogue" complement the Palaceer's verbosity and bring us further into the world of Quazarz. The Jealous Machines, in contrast, strikes less of a balance. It's wordier, with no strictly instrumental tracks, and its conceptual bent is more instrumental to the essence of the LP.

So what exactly is that concept? Quazarz is the name of an interstellar traveler sent to Earth and then left alone to figure out the existence of its inhabitants. He notices most citizens of Amurderca (who are post-language and now speak with guns) are preoccupied with their technology and phones, which are scorned and have become jealous. This story is presumably fleshed out in a comic book being released alongside Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines. Notably, Jealous Machines is much more concerned with storytelling than Gangster Star, and thus it often gives off the feeling of a soundtrack.

Shabazz Palaces' music isn't for everyone. Even after many listens, one gets the sense that there's always going to be a hidden meaning or detail yet to be examined. For the casual listener who just wants to get the gist, Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star will suffice. But to get the full, mystifying, compelling effect, it's worth diving into any and all material Shabazz Palaces blesses us with. (www.shabazzpalaces.com)

Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star: 7/10

Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines: 6/10

Author rating: 6.5/10

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Average reader rating: 2/10



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