Seattle-based hip-hop collective talk ahead of 'Black Up'
Shabazz Palaces Interview

How often do you sit down and listen to a record without knowing anything about it? I mean really know nothing about it. Contextualisation has become part and parcel of the way we digest music in the 21st century and Shabazz Palaces are here to challenge that. On their album you’ll find no accreditation, no names and no influences. Instead, what you will find is some of the most progressive hip-hop around right now. The Seattle-based collective are headed by figurehead Palaceer Lazaro aka Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, formally of Digable Planets fame. This is all we’re going to tell you. We spoke to Butler from his Seattle home to find out more.

How long has Shabazz Palaces been around?

Probably about five years. It’s difficult to say because me and the cats involved are all friends and have been friends for a long time. So it’s hard to say exactly when it all started, plus we’ve all been on each other’s stuff – things that haven’t necessarily come out. The idea for this angle of it came out about five years ago, just from hanging out with musicians and rappers, coming up with ideas and filtering through inspirations. Mining your way through stuff. A wondering in a way…I guess with a purpose – but still a wondering.

A wondering in the sense that you’re still trying to explore everything you’re about?

No, more in the way of not really having any specific thought or destination of where we want it to go. Just coming in and doing music and not thinking about what we’re going to do it with or what it’s going to be. Just doing it because that’s what we were compelled to do.

How is Shabazz Palaces different to Digable Planets?

It’s different and it’s the same. Like the clothes you wore 10 years ago. Maybe there are some remnants of that style still there but there’s a little bit of a change, or a twist or maturity to it as well. I don’t think too analytically. But I’d say it was a little bit more rounded, even if it’s rounded in the sense of space.

How do you feel about the word ‘abstract’ being used to describe you?

I feel a common predisposition to being attracted, and seduced, to abstract things. Visual things, concepts, feelings so I wouldn’t disagree, but I wouldn’t say we were trying to achieve that. I understand when it’s said about us as it’s something which factors in to my tastes a lot in terms of what I pursue, or I feel myself being drawn to.

What are your tastes? What you listening to right now?

I like this group Weekend, from San Francisco; I like the new Rick Ross album and I like Fleet Foxes new album a lot; Animal Collective and Panda Bear. The specific stuff doesn’t really do it justice because I listen to a lot of Podcasts or mix tapes – I don’t really pay much attention to the track listings. I listen out for stuff that’s new and interesting. I’m not a nerd in the sense that I need to know who did it, where it came from – I’m just satisfied that I like the song. And I do that a lot without knowing who it is.

How do you go about making your music?

There’s no set way. If I had to call a pattern it would be to listen to the music and go with the first feelings that make words and then building off that.

Why are you not crediting anyone on the record?

The credit lies in the artefact. We know who did it - in terms of compensating people, of course we take care of that – it’s cool if you want to focus on these personalities and their back-stories but we feel that the most important thing to focus on is the outcome. Anything apart from that is a mute point. In this day and age a lot of stuff will get by because of what may, or may not, be in the credits. In some senses I understand that because people have made a name for themselves and they’ve earned it, but in other ways it takes away from the experience of forming your own opinions and feelings based on as little free information as possible. That way you are more involved in the way you end up feeling. So much can come with these personalities, it can colour the way you feel way before you hear one second of the music. People mistake it for pretence or aloofness but that’s not the case. It’s a much more human and humble way to approach it.

Are you going to be touring?

Yeah, we’re getting some shows together. There’s some offers to go around the states and then to come to the UK after September. The live show will be a very nice twist on the album.

Black Up is out on 4 July

Words by Sam Ballard

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