Shabazz Palaces brings its alien churn

Rapper Ishmael Butler and friends. Butler, formerly of Digable Planets, teams with multi-instrumentalist Tendai "Baba" Maraire in Shabazz Palaces.
Rapper Ishmael Butler and friends. Butler, formerly of Digable Planets, teams with multi-instrumentalist Tendai "Baba" Maraire in Shabazz Palaces. (PATRICK O'BRIEN-SMITH)
Posted: August 26, 2014

Audiences interested in a crash course in Afro-futurism had a chance to see the genre's past and future in Philadelphia last week. Founding father George Clinton played the Ardmore Music Hall on Wednesday, while current torchbearers Shabazz Palaces landed at Union Transfer on Friday, performing for a small but rapt crowd.

The duo plays a warped sci-fi mutation of hip-hop that incorporates equal doses of EDM and old-fashioned eccentricity and makes their music sound like nothing else on the current scene.

Shabazz Palace's second full-length album, Lese Majesty, layers voices, percussion, and synthesized noises into a hazy psychedelic whorl, a densely absorbing headspace that seemed daunting to re-create live. But on Friday, the songs took on a fiercer groove while sacrificing little of their inherent weirdness. The fragmentary tunes have small regard for traditional song structure and tend to bleed into one another so fluidly that when the duo actually paused for a moment, there was an unusually long silence before the entranced audience remembered to applaud.

Rapper Ishmael Butler is no stranger to bucking the trend in hip-hop. His 1990s group Digable Planets incorporated jazz samples and cerebral themes that flew in the face of the era's harder-edged gangsta tendencies. Then known as Butterfly and now using the name Palaceer Lazaro, in Shabazz Palaces Butler submerges his wordplay in the larger churn of sound, while multi-instrumentalist Tendai "Baba" Maraire adds percussion, electronics, and heavily processed singing that emerges as texture more than vocals. The two occasionally burst into choreographed sequences of robotic gestures, all the while backlit by blue and red lights that only added to the impression of their being musical ambassadors from another world or a future time.

More tethered to the current moment, if no less adventurous in their approach to the genre, Sub Pop labelmates Clipping opened, following a brief set by soul singer Son Little. The Los Angeles-based trio teams MC Daveed Diggs with electronic musicians William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. Their bludgeoning 40-minute set backed Diggs' machine-gun rhymes with noise explosions from the duo.

Both sets proved that traditional beats aren't necessarily a prerequisite for making people move.


ShaunDBrady@gmail.com

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