Shabazz Palaces | Lese Majesty | Sub Pop | ****
For the thesaurus full of words one could use to define Shabazz Palaces, you’d be hard pressed to find a better descriptor than “cryptic.” From the early enigma surrounding the group’s identity, to their often impenetrable sound, the Seattle-based duo have raised mystery to a high art in hip-hop over the course of their debut and two EP releases.
Their sophomore effort Lese Majesty sees rapper Ishmael Butler (formerly Digable Planets frontman Butterfly) and producer Tendai Maraire pulling back the shroud a bit, letting a few rays of light pierce the dark haze. Not that Majesty is cheery by any stretch; Maraire has again summoned a blurry, claustrophobic world into which Butler can woozily proclaim his otherworldly verses. Tracks like “Forerunner Foray” and “Harem Aria” give the sonic impression of stumbling your way through a dense cloud of weed smoke, while a voice from behind the curtain proclaims enigmatic truisms like “Modern blackness is abstracted and protracted by the purest.” It’s disorienting and ultimately entrancing, so much so that anytime something remotely “upbeat” kicks in, it sounds like party jams by contrast (well, “#Cake” is a banger by any stretch.) True to the group’s outsider aesthetic, Lese Majesty makes no attempt to invite you in with anything accessible. Simply enter on their terms, and hope you find your way back out.