That's it, fellas. I win the gold medal in the Shabazz Palaces Hyperbole Olympics. For those of you>"/>
That's it, fellas. I win the gold medal in the Shabazz Palaces Hyperbole Olympics. For those of you who haven't been keeping score at home (shame on you), it wasn't an easy contest. There's been some stiff competition in this event.
The City Arts contestant, writing under the headline: "The most groundbreaking music coming from Seattle puts into words what words can't explain," weighed in with: "Music is precious. If you believe otherwise--or if you've never given it much thought, or if a thousand 99-cent downloads on your iPod have made you forget--Shabazz Palaces will set you straight." He later finished his round by saying: "This is not blog-today-gone-tomorrow trendiness. It's a cosmology 20 years in the making. The music demands--and rewards--commitment, the kind we're often unwilling to risk in 2011. There was a time when we believed in bands, in genres, in music--before these things were lifestyle accessories, disposable, as ubiquitous and underappreciated as water flowing from a tap."
The Seattle Times sent a worthy competitor who flew the "Album of the Year" flag in his write-up of Shabazz's new record, Black Up, opening with: "Warning: Black Up will knife your speaker fabric, transfix you with a beam of light and drop philosophy in your head. It is an experience, to say the least." He went on to say: "Pardon the hype, but the second album by Seattle hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces is the album of the year. Local, national, international -- "Black Up" is it. [The judge from the nation of New York Magazine took notice here, noting that "You can actually see the city of Seattle taking great pride in it. (The Seattle Times' Andrew Matson has already declared it album of the year.) This is not undeserved."]
Reverb's own Eric Grandy even dipped his toe into the competition, placing the record atop his best-of list of records for the first half of the year, and calling Black Up "a mindblower."
And, finally, writing in The Stranger under the headline "Shabazz Palaces drop the decade's first hip hip-hop masterpiece," Charles Mudede notices the attention the band has gotten from the local press, noting that "In 2010, Butler would be the first rapper on the cover of The Stranger, receive high praise from every Seattle music critic, and win this paper's first Genius Award for music." Did you hear that? The Stranger points to the band's popularity and import by noting that it's been featured by . . . THE STRANGER! TWICE! Mudede finishes up with: "I'm just going to say it, because the truth needs to be said: Black Up is a local and global hip-hop masterpiece."
Now I'm just going to say it, because the truth needs to be said: Shabazz Palaces is supremely overrated. The spaced-out, jazz-inflected Black Up may be one of the more distinct albums to come out of the city in the past year, but there have also been more consequential albums released in Seattle, and on SP's label home, Sub Pop, over the last 12 months.
Considering the expectations, anything short of an ocean-parting performance Thursday night would have been a let-down. But Shabazz leader Ishmael Butler and his friends--though they're not splitting atoms--are not green, and they brought a stronger show than I've seen them put on in the past.
SP's sound is based on beats and rhymes made by Butler--formerly of Digable Planets--and the Africa-to-South America percussive accompaniments of Tendai Maraire. Maraire's contributions--though humble on both the mbira and congas--are almost as critical to the band's sound as Butler's beats.
Butler arrived, mike in hand, from the back of a nearly packed Neumos, weaving through the audience as he made his way toward his perch. On stage, Butler and Maraire--with on-again, off-again support from the women of THEESatisfaction--worked in lockstep, sometimes literally, among their coordinated chaos.
Most notable was that they accomplished something too few live performers manage to grasp: They maximized their sound for the stage, rather than brought their studio sound to a live audience. It not only added gravitas to their canon, it transformed an album of songs built for rumination and conversation into beats to bang along to.
The set didn't stop the earth from spinning. It didn't eradicate malaria. But it did get a few hundred people on the hill to lose themselves on a Thursday night.
Asking for any more is just greedy.