Every so often, an artist comes around that truly innovates music and possesses that rare magic. Enter and marvel at the world of Shabazz Palaces, there’s nothing quite like it.
Shabazz Palaces is a Seattle-based, experimental hip-hop duo made up by Ishmael Butler, aka “Palaceer Lazaro” (formerly “Butterfly” of Digable Planets), and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire, aka “Baba.” They were the first hip hop act signed to Sub Pop, and their debut full-length album, Black Up, in 2011 garnered critical acclaim.
Last year, they released their second album, Lese Majesty, and it cemented fans’ admiration. The namesake is derived from the French term of committing an offense against the dignity of royalty. Shabazz Palaces unabashedly taunts the values and structure that govern the modern world, namely within mainstream rap, and dismantle these through a sort of stream of consciousness—disorienting instrumentation and free-flowing, sagacious raps. They fabricate a phantasmagorical reality, and it’s intoxicating as hell. (Check out their music video for "Forerunner Foray" below.)
To fellow lovers of music’s subterranean treasures, Shabazz Palaces is like precious gold.
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Ishmael Butler while he was in Los Angeles, so we headed to the beach for a smoke and a stroll.
EARMILK: Can you explain a bit about your musical background?
ISHMAEL BUTLER: I first started as a fan of music, as a really little kid. When I got to middle school, I played the saxophone in jazz band, beginning jazz band and then intermediate…After that, when I got to high school, I started doing music production, working with Akai samplers and stuff like that…So, that’s how I got started.
EM: Who would you say are your greatest influences?
IB: Well, my parents influenced my outlook in life and behavior…and then that outlook was influenced by a lot of people, more than I could mention…but some of the big names: like Miles Davis, Rakim, shit like that…
EM: If you could put 3 records in a time capsule what would they be?
IB: Kind of Blue – Miles Davis; one of the Roc Marciano mixtapes, probably Marcberg; and I’d just grab something without looking and throw that in there.
EM: What about contemporary artists that you dig?
IB: Yea, there are hundreds of them…
EM: Could you name a few?
IB: Flying Lotus, Damon Albarn (of Blur and Gorillaz), Jack White, Marian Hill, Big Boi…that’s what comes to mind…
EM: Are there particular issues or ideas that you channel through your music?
IB: Trust in your instinct…that which comes immediately to mind, in terms of making a musical choice.
EM: As someone who’s been involved in the music world for so long, and holding all the life experiences you do, what advice would you give to new, upcoming artists?
IB: Well, no matter what kind of artist you are…music, painting, sculpture, dance…it’s like, you have to decide whether you want to be an artist that works off their talent and work, or by building your name and brand in different ways…You just have to figure out what you want to do and how to do it.
EM: Ok, now let's get to know more about yourself. What would you say are the major turning points in your life? Maybe 3 highlights?
IB: 1) Going to the Grammy’s. 2) Winning the state basketball championship in high school. 3) And like, anytime one of my kids call me “Dad.”
EM: What was your favorite TV show or cartoon growing up?
IB: Felix the Cat and Speed Racer.
EM: What are some hobbies or interests most people may not know you have?
IB: I am a taxidermist…
IB: Nah, I’m joking. Cooking, I love cooking.
EM: Are there any books you’re currently reading? Or books you’d recommend?
IB: Any book by Richard K. Morgan, Hari Kunzru, and Alice Smith.
EM: Do you have any favorite lyrics or quotes?
IB: Umm, no, I can’t think of anything.
EM: What would be a perfect day to you?
IB: A really long, summer day…either on an island or by the beach.
EM: Like today? :D
IB: Hahaha yea!
EM: What is one thing you’ll never do again?
EM: What is one thing you’d like to do or experience all over again?
IB: Heroin…Haha, no, I’m kidding…My first kiss.
EM: Ooh, when was that? Or can you describe the memory?
IB: Umm, I don’t really remember, that’s why I’d like to have it over again.
EM: What would you say is a major plus in a woman? What about a deal breaker?
IB: Let me think…so many…Umm, sense of humor. Deal breaker would be like…people that aren’t really hygienic…girls that aren’t hygienic-centric. I’m not judging, but that’s not for me. Ha.
EM: Would you rather be feared or loved?
EM: Would you rather be twice as smart or twice as happy?
IB: Twice as smart.
EM: If you could be reincarnated as a fictional character, object, or anything else…what would you be?
IB: I’d be Takeshi Kovacs. He’s the main character in some of those Richard Morgan novels that I was talking about…He’s a science-fiction action hero; he’s pretty fresh. I would like to rock it as him for a while.
EM: Ok, made simple, what is your mission in life?
IB: To…cheat death for as long as I can.
EM: Final question, what can we expect from Shabazz Palaces during the rest of 2015?
EM: US tour?
IB: Europe…few US shows, Bonnaroo…but just expect touring, shows here and there.
EM: Thank you so much!