Shabazz Palaces' 'Lese Majesty' is a Beautifully Cryptic Whole

Shabazz Palaces, Lese Majesty
Out now, Sub Pop, shabazzpalaces.com

Palaceer Lazaro (aka Ishmael Butler) is a rapper unconcerned with being easily understood. Which isn’t to say he’s not communicating. For example, Lese Majesty—the second release (not including two mini-albums) from the avant-rap group Butler shares with Tendai Maraire—refers to a French phrase for antagonizing a sovereign power. That’s just the first and most obvious clue to his message here. To get the rest, you’ll need to sift through dense layers of obscure sampled dialogue, synthesizers, and Butler’s often abstracted vocals. As Lese Majesty is 18 tracks long, that may be difficult. This is a sprawling album that doubles down on its predecessor’s (2011’s Black Up) sonic eccentricities. But here Butler, Maraire, and cohort Erik Blood have opted for something quieter. The textures are there, just as on Shabazz’s previous albums, only now they’re more ambient. And if Lese Majesty is more successful at drawing you in, that’s due in no small part to Butler, who dials down the wordplay. There are no lyrical fireworks here, no density that could be described as a “triple entendre.” If you want a primer, there’s no better example than the following from “Solemn Swears”: “I’m very nice like Jerry Rice/I make ’em dance just at a glance.” It’s a simply constructed phrase set against a string of pops, whizzes, and bass drum fused into one beautifully cryptic whole.

 
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