Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Shabazz Palaces

  • Of Light [Switchblade Music/Templar EP, 2009] A-
  • Shabazz Palaces [Switchblade Music/Templar EP, 2009] A-
  • Black Up [Sub Pop, 2011] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Of Light [Switchblade Music/Templar EP, 2009]
Ishmael Butler surfaced as Digable Planets' Butterfly, briefly led the electrofunk CherryWine a decade later, and then sunk from view until the near simultaneous 2009 release of two illegibly documented alt-rap EPs--even determining Butler's involvement required investigative reporting. Lead track on the first promises both "ideology to go" and "attack of the funky clones," but until the be-what-you-are closer, the record delivers mostly clones or at least "clones," including Butler as raggamuffin and a rent-a-thug calling out such "drug pushers" as Osama, Bush II, and old-schooler Oliver North. Fortunately, when the funk is this deep and weird, replicas sound like singletons every time. A-

Shabazz Palaces [Switchblade Music/Templar EP, 2009]
Rhyming dark and down over beats artier than Dilla's, the artist currently known as Palaceer Lazaro dares you to pin him down. Although the music is less peculiar than first appears, exotica guitar and group-hey-with-foghorn and looped-mbira-tunelet don't exactly shout street. Yet quietly but clearly, the rapper sticks to MC swagger, casual criminality, partying till you wild out, "a lot of hopes and wishes and dreams in here"--plus just enough cautionary reality to keep his ideology fresh. Think of him as a locally based documentarian--a "bright light on the dark side of town" with a cool hand on the dimmer switch. A-

Black Up [Sub Pop, 2011]
Play loud. I can't speak to the listening practices of the post-illbient beatmakers whose tricks Palaceer Lazaro gathers together and improves on like he's just been waiting for the go-ahead from Tricky himself. But though I wouldn't be surprised if they blasted everything at 10, I think of them as background guys best heard on de facto dinner comps like, say, Mush Filmstrip (Frame 1). Don't make that mistake on an album that improves mightily when the volume is high enough to break the beats into components so they're impossible to ignore. That way, there's no mistaking it for the aimless prog Sub Pop probably hopes gullible white youngsters lump it with. Special favorites for me are the children's-chorus loop turned mbira-and-hand-drums on "An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum," the kinetic drum'n'whatever of "yeah you," the faux-woodwind-lick/surrogate-maracas-electroclicks/African-etc.-outro of "Swerve . . . the reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding)." But I like them all--the beats, that is. The titles are for the gullible, and shouldn't give you the wrong idea about the rhymes even though the beats are why you'll play this. Loud. A-