When: Mon., Aug. 28, 9 p.m. 2017
It's been eight years since Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler bounced on Digable Planets and changed his name to Palaceer Lazaro, joining forces with instrumentalist Tendai "Baba" Mararie to create the groundbreaking group Shabazz Palaces. With Palaceer's dexterous flow, the duo's ethereal sound palette was a fresh new sound in rap music at a time when the genre's direction was unclear. The pair's production was dark and avant-garde, utilizing subtle samples like a sound mosaic that brought harmony to occasionally harsh drum patterns. It was like free-form jazz, but for beat making.
Almost ten years and two projects later, the duo has released two albums back to back this past July, Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines and Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star. The two records take listeners on a mind-bending intergalactic journey, with Butler playing the character of Quazarz, a being traveling through "Amurdica" on the planet "Gangster Star." Both LPs are built in the same storytelling universe, but serve different functions. Gangster Star serves as Quazar's Star Trek-esque captain's log, chronicling his time on a hostile planet, a dystopian version of Earth, where the beings have elevated to a language that uses guns instead of spoken words.
Jealous Machines serves more as an existential journey that examines our connection and obsession with technology. It's an emotional observation of how we yearn for one another when we're not connected.
Butler's character of Quazarz is unlike anything ever created in hip-hop. Rappers with alien alter egos aren't exactly new—Outkast came onto the scene over twenty years ago, asserting that they were extraterrestrial beings. But the level of world building Butler employs with Quazarz and the emotion he brings to the character is like something out of a sci-fi fantasy novel, with haunting images of what our world can become.
Musically, the projects are worlds apart from the production of Shabazz Palaces' earliest work. Take, for example, Gangster Star's "Shine a Light," which samples Dee Dee Sharp's "I Really Love You" in a way that feels like an opening credits scene for an epic movie. Shabazz Palaces holds true to its free-form foundation, but it takes the sounds to another, far grander level that was needed to glue the alternate universe together.—Charles Morse