I’m sure you know, I listen to a lot of music. I also listen to a lot of different kinds of music. The two kinds of music I listen to least would probably be “contemporary Country” or whatever you want to call it (I love country music, I just don’t think that much of what is currently billed as country is anything like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, or even early Wilco) and current hip hop.
When it comes to hip hop, it’s mostly subject matter and presentation. I love sampling, I love beats, etc. But, I have a hard time with someone telling me how much better they are than others. I’m not one of those people who cringes uncontrollably at every curse word in music, but quite often, hip hop has more than its fair share of expletives. To be honest, for the most part, I see it as a wasted art-form. So much potential and all these guys can do with it is talk about how great they are; how hard-core they are, and objectifying women and glorifying drug use. I’m also particularly put 0ff by so many rappers using the “N-word.” Perhaps it’s because I’m white, I just don’t understand, but to try and use that word as a term of endearment, or to call another rapper by that term just doesn’t make sense to me. Plus, if you have to spend an entire song telling me how great you are, chances are; I’m just going to think you’re insecure.
But every once in a while, I come across an artist who intrigues me even while having some of the same elements that keep me away from most hip hop. I am intrigued by the idea of Odd Future, though I am repulsed by their actual lyrics. One of my favorite hip hop acts was Digable Planets. Their two albums were creative and at the forefront of “jazz rap,” or whatever you want to call it. When I heard that Ishmael from Digable Planets had formed a new act called Shabazz Palaces, I wanted to check them out.
Though many of the elements that keep me away from hip hop are present, I am smitten by this group right now. Yes, they cuss, use the “N-Word” and even use derogatory terms for women, but they are one of the most original acts I’ve come across in a long time. Elements that made Digable Planets so good are present, yet taken farther. Most of the songs are non-linear; they don’t include 12-16 bars followed by a chorus. Instead, they morph and explore. Music often captures me best when an artist succeeds at creating a mood and Shabazz Palaces have emerged with a fully-formed musical world. Yes, there is black pride throughout (Shabazz, according to Nation of Islam doctrine, Shabazz was a scientist who led his tribe into Africa).
After two EPs in 2009, Shabazz Palaces put out their first full-length album Black Up on Sub Pop Records. Based out of Seattle, WA, not known as the mecca for hip hop, the group succeeds in creating a murky environment over which Ishmael seems to ramble in stream-of-consciousness raps. The beats are thick and always intriguing. This is not music that I would normally listen to, but it’s so rare that a band captures such a fully-formed ethos that I’m intrigued, not by the lyrics, but by the mood they create. The closest they come to “traditional” song structure is “Swerve… The Reeping of All That is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding)” has become one of my favorite tracks of the year so far.
Is there music you typically steer clear of? What? Why? What draws you to certain music? Do you regularly engage in “intentional listening” (making yourself listen to music that at first seems difficult)?
Here is the band performing a four-song set for KEXP (video is about 18 minutes long):
Here’s the band performing “The King’s New Clothes Were Made By His Own Hands:”
Here is “Swerve” – I couldn’t find a good video of this track, so here is the audio:
Shabazz Palaces – Swerve…The Reeping of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding) by Hypetrak