Sub Pop’s always been a beloved indie label, so their first venture into the world of hip-hop may have seemed like a risky proposition. But truthfully, folks should’ve already known that the Seattle label has impeccable taste. Of course their first hip-hop signing – alt-rap crew Shabazz Palaces – was bound to be a slam dunk. Debut album Black Up was progressive and unconventional, and as the brainchild of Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler aka Palaceer Lazaro (formerly of Digable Planets), we expected no less. Ishmael has always preferred to colour his hip-hop in deep and dark hues, but this sees him and multi-instrumentalist Tendai 'Baba' Maraire taking their vision to uncharted levels of illbient brilliance. Chaotic and kinetic, Shabazz Palace’s inscrutable vibe proves that there’s still incredible hip-hop being developed on the fringes.
What has Shabazz Palaces been up to since Black Up was released back in 2011?
Doing a lot of touring! It’s just been touring and recording new music basically.
Cool! Could you give me an idea of what the new stuff sounds like?
I could but I’d much rather you hear it. (Laughs) I feel like talking about wouldn’t do it justice, so I’ll have to keep you in suspense a little.
Well we certainly can’t wait for it. What are your thoughts on finally coming to Singapore?
I don’t know much about Singapore other that the things I’ve heard and read over the years, but I’m interested in coming and eager to see it and absorb the atmosphere. I never thought I’d go there but I always wanted to go there at the same time, so it’s exciting.
Could you give an idea of what a Shabazz Palaces live show is like?
I don’t want to raise expectations but I’ll say this – we perform with a lot of energy and passion and spontaneity. We always react to whatever’s happening in the crowd, so whoever’s there bound to have a good time.
Anyways, your first two EPs got a bit of buzz, but you guys really blew up internationally when Black Up dropped. Were you surprised by that?
Yes, I was. I’m not sure why it resonated much more than the rest of our work because we never presuppose or plan our music like that. We didn’t really try to predict what people might or might not like. We just wanted to express ourselves creatively, and though we didn’t see the success coming, we’re proud that so many more people are enjoying our music around the world.
You guys are signed to Sub Pop, a label that isn’t really known for hip-hop. How did that come about?
Well we’re from the city, and I felt like they were ready to make that type of venture. And the people at the label, they love hip-hop, they were into it. They’ve never declared themselves as one type of music label, and I guess this was just the right time, with the right personalities and the right people involved.
What’s it like being on Sub Pop?
It’s great because you have the rare combination of ultimate freedom and ultimate support. You really have a chance to just do what you feel like doing, and then when you do that you’re lent the support that helps you get it out to rest of world. It’s the ideal relationship, from an artist point of view actually.
Coming out of Digable Planets and Cherry Wine, what inspired you to start-up this new project?
I felt like this whole new wave of music inspired us. This is a time when we were able to really make an artistic statement without having to rely on too much financial support. You didn’t have to have a label and you didn’t have to do much selling to get recognized. We could just make music and we could get on the playing field just based off the music.
We just heard your very sci-fi sounding remix for Animal Collective’s “New Town Burnout”. How did it all come about?
Oh the band came to us! I’m glad that liked our final version of it. I’ve always been lucky because I’ve always liked the songs that I’ve been asked to remix in the first place and I really love Animal Collective.
Are you picky with remix requests?
Not especially. If anybody asked me to remix a song, I’d actually feel like I should… because it’s a blessing and it’s flattering too. They’re asking for my creative take on their work! And most of time they let me do whatever I want to, so what more can you ask for? And they pay too so it’s kind of an alley-oop. (Laughs)
Shabazz Palaces (presented by Home Club and Propaganda Promotions) plays on Home Club on Friday, 21 June. Purchase $38 pre-sale tickets (includes one standard drink) via www.apesnap.com. Tickets at the door cost $48 (includes one standard drink).
Text Hidzir Junaini
Image courtesy of Propaganda Promotions