Shabazz Palaces Talk Hip-Hop and Sub Pop

A new video and a headline show suggests they're saddling up once more. We catch up with them.
Shabazz Palaces
Ishmael and Tendai from Shabazz Palaces © David Belisle
By Chris Parkin

Ishmael Butler’s Shabazz Palaces released their debut album, 'Black Up,' in 2011 on Sub Pop to become the first hip-hop act on the fêted indie label. Their righteous, experimental jazz- and psych-laced tunes met with instant acclaim and presented a very different proposition to Butler’s previous act, Digable Planets. They headline a Red Bull Sound Select show in Portland on November 5 so there’s no better time to demand some new music from them.

How far away is the new album?

It’s closer than it is far, but that could mean a month or three months and I don’t want to put any kind of cap on it because then you start building expectations you might not be able to reach.

And pressure isn’t good when you’re exploring existential themes…

Yeah, but that being said our explorations are pretty fast because you want to stay as spontaneous and instinctive as possible. The mixing of it and different approaches to the sonic soundscape can prolong the process but for the most part we like to capture the moment and then, as themes emerge, you can figure out where the album is heading.

You've just released a video for An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum, which is two years old. How come?

This cat came with the finished product. He was a student in France. He was in film school and it was just something he did as a project and he sent it to us and we thought it was pretty hip. We talked to him, came to some mutual minor changes and put it out. I thought it was about isolation, concentration, beauty, war, and an expression of our connectivity with nature.

Would you agree with the consensus that hip-hop – especially the sort perceived as “thoughtful” – is going through a purple patch?

What is thoughtful and how is that gauged? There’s a guy that’s rapping in Chicago – all the street Chicago shit to me is thoughtful – called Lil’ Herb. Songs like Gangway. Their existential exploration is exciting to me because of their proximity to risk of life. I mean, I like Earl [Sweatshirt]. Earl is one of my favourites but the idea that because some guys don’t look the same or because they’re not talking about selling dope or shooting cats that’s thoughtful, I reject that idea. Song and dance is smoke and mirrors because what you do is perceived by what you ordain it as – and dissenters will be marginalised. It’s a desolate landscape when it comes to looking at music critically because success seems to equal quality and I don’t agree with that.

Shabazz Palaces
Shabazz Palaces © David Belisle

You must be exposed to a lot of music as a Sub Pop A&R – have you noticed any trends?

I’m not keen on the volume of music released. People putting out unfinished songs on blogs. I just think, go in, make your music, take your time. I’m not someone who thinks we need to go back to the past, but when I was coming up to put a video out was an achievement and it meant you’d gone through a boot camp of sorts. Now you get a camera, shoot it, put it on YouTube or blindly program something and the program will put it together. It dilutes the quality somewhat.

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