The Don of Diamond Dreams

The Don of Diamond Dreams

Ishmael Butler might be a legend in the rap game, but he has no interest in sitting on his legacy. As the leader of the ’90s alt-rap group Digable Planets, Butler helped pioneer a jazz-heavy approach to the genre, flipping standards and avant-garde tracks into digestible, swaggering rap songs. Now, he’s equally enamored by upending styles, but with Shabazz Palaces, he blends electronics, Afro-futurism, and classic funk to create an intergalactic style of hip-hop, while imbuing his lyrics with a decidedly poetic appeal. On The Don of Diamond Dreams, the Seattle group’s fifth album, Butler can move from braggadocious and playful (“Chocolate Souffle”) to nostalgic and grateful (“Thanking the Girls”). Having honed his craft over four decades, Butler is still obsessed with learning and immersing himself in every experience he encounters. “I try to really be as absorbent as possible when I'm out in the world experiencing shit,” he tells Apple Music. “So that when I get in a room with some cats and we start jamming, all of my ideas can come out in a natural, instinctive way.” Here he walks us through how each of the album's songs came together. Portal North: Panthera “It’s almost like an appetizer, to give you a sense of where the record is going to go. It’s going to be strange. It’s going to be a little ethereal. It’s going to have a different approach. I just wanted a smooth intro into that reality. My man Carlos Niño played all of the percussion on this track. He's a master from LA. He's a real spiritual cat, too. It was cool to have him set the vibe and set the tone, and get shit started off.“ Ad Ventures “This track is just hard. It has a hard sound to it, but it also has a weirdness that embodies the Shabazz aesthetic and ethos. My man OCnotes plays a really cool keyboard on this one, the little glistening part. It just has a good set-off feeling. The lyrics are about traveling around the world, going all over the place. I was getting to meet all kinds of people and then I’d come back to the studio. I wanted to share all the shit that I’d been going through and experiencing, finding a way to put it down into some organized, cohesive form on record. It really gives a lot of shout-outs and pays homage to the people that I work with in the black constellation. This one is saying that Shabazz is back and this is the tone that we are going to be rocking with, and this is the people that we represent.” Fast Learner (feat. Purple Tape Nate) “Purple Tape Nate has a fascinating approach. The way he modernizes my outlook has been something that I can't even really calculate. He just has a sensibility that is timeless but at the same time is through the prism of now. I really like his approach to things, his buoyancy, and the way he bubbles and floats around and gets into the grooves. I always look forward to working with him. I remember programming that drum beat and it made me think of the New Jack Swing kind of sound. I was just like, 'Man, can we get modern with that feel?' I’ve always believed there's no real time in music. Of course there are trends and things, rhythms and shit pop up and fade away. You remember the era when everybody had the Soul II Soul [‘Keep on Movin'’] beat on every song. Now that the trap beat is prevalent, it's cool to work with those raw elements and see what I can do rhythmically and melodically without losing my own voice.” Wet “A lot of my joints really start off by getting the beat down and then just doing freestyles off the head. I like when the music makes you say something that you can’t predict. When I first said that line ‘I just like the water ’cause it’s wet,’ I was like, ‘This shit is kind of elementary. It doesn't really have any depth to it.’ But then I went, 'Hold up. That's actually kind of ill.' You like something for its essential property, even though it's really hard to define what that essential property is. And then I started thinking, that's what it's like in romance and when you like a lady. You like her because she's her, the essence of her. From there, I just started kicking game. I was bragging to a lady about my attributes and what I'm about. Before I knew it, things got very sensual. My man Evan Flory-Barnes, he actually played that wild bassline throughout the song and it was cluttered. I liked it a lot, so I just moved the placement of it so that it would be a crescendo at the end.” Chocolate Souffle “Rap has always been about bragging and boasting at its core. Your style is really based on how you could creatively talk about the abilities that you have, and the imagination that you have. It’s all about how you color in the edges. On this one, I was talking shit, every line, for the whole song. I’m just going off, bragging and taking it back to what the rap thing was all really about. I always try to run my styles through the prism of now. I fuck with all this new music, all the new rappers, all the new styles. I know a lot of people say it's repetitive and the same. That really can be true, especially when it comes to subject matter. The subject matter is really limited to just a few things. But I like bouncing around in the new styles and stuff like that.” Portal South: Micah “This just felt like a good time to take a quick break in the LP. It’s another palate cleanser. It feels like, ‘Okay, take a little breath before we get into the second half of the situation.’” Bad Bitch Walking (feat. Stas THEE Boss) “Stas is one of the best macks that I know in terms of hanging out with the ladies and stuff like that. She’s got a girlfriend now, but back when we used to be on tour, you could always run the streets and hang out at the clubs with Stas. She’s one of my best friends, and one of my favorite rappers, too. I knew she would get busy based on the beat and the subject matter and everything like that. She came in the studio, and always she'll sit down for 10, 15 minutes. She'll be typing shit into her phone and then she'll just blast it out. This song is about having a different take on the bad-bitch thing. It's sort of like the way black people use the term ‘n***a,’ where the derogatory term is taken and co-opted into something that is complimentary, but it's only for the group of people that has been oppressed by the phrase to even have the license to use it. So through Stas I was able to realize that. It was tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time dead serious with the title and the hook.” Money Yoga (feat. Darrius) “‘Money Yoga’ is about people on Instagram doing yoga, and how those two things always seemed oxymoronic to me. You're supposed to be inside your mind, almost being thoughtless or just thinking about your breath, and honing in on transcendental-type shit, but motherfuckers are consciously recording themselves. Then there’s the Cash App, with people doing revealing things online. It just seems like getting money is the new yoga, and all these mantras of getting money are prevalent, like 'Money's always on my mind.' Everything funnels into some way to monetize it. I like songs that are simple and get to a point, and hammer that point home when it's done correctly. I also envisioned this like a mantra, when you're getting ready to go do something that you know you've been trying to realize for a while. You let this mantra play, that you have to get yours. I wanted 'Money Yoga' to be something that you could almost wake up and get dressed to.” Thanking the Girls “This one is for the ladies of my life: my mom, my grandma, my aunties, my cousins. This is for everyone that gave me so much and sacrificed so much when I was a kid. They all shared so much—their genius, their creativity; everything, really. They informed how I would grow into my teenage years. Then, when I started liking girls and being involved with them, having relationships with them, romances and friendships, I’m shouting out how they impacted me. I started realizing, ‘Damn, I'm really made up of so many women and things that I got from them.’ It’s also for girls that I used to date, that I don't talk to or see anymore, that I remember them. I remember the things that we did, the things that they said, and the things that they taught me, the experience we had. The second verse is about my daughters, Dee and Kyla. We’re really tight. I wanted to let them know how they make me feel and also to commemorate it forever in a song. I felt proud to be able to do it.” Reg Walks By the Looking Glass (feat. Carlos Overall) “Reg is my pop. Reginald. He passed away in July [2019]. It was right before the album was about to be mixed. I went out to Virginia where he was spending his last days. When I got back, I just made this song because he loved the saxophone. It also features some experiences that are personal to me from him passing away that just had a profound impact on my outlook. This song, and this poem, is about me trying to imagine what it's like to face death, and the strength, the fear, the realizations, and all of the considerations that come when you realize that you’re leaving this particular realm. This song takes one swipe at small aspects of that feeling. Carlos Overall and Carlos Niño both play on this one; Niño’s on percussion. There’s also that saxophone/bass solo section, which I wanted to include because it’s one of my pop's favorite instruments. 'Reg' is all about sending my dad to wherever he's going. I wanted to send him off with some love, some smoothness, and some familiarity from his boy and his boy's boys.”

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