About Shabazz Palaces
Shabazz Palaces is the cerebral and enigmatic art-rap duo of Palaceer Lazaro, aka rapper/producer Ishmael Butler, and percussionist Tendai "Baba" Maraire. The first hip-hop crew signed to pioneering underground label Sub Pop, Shabazz Palaces have concocted a string of heady recordings with elements of avant-garde jazz, funk, and dub supporting Butler's likewise mind-expanding verses mixing profundity and humor. Their albums are Black Up (2011), the Top Ten Billboard R&B/hip-hop entry Lese Majesty (2014), the concurrent releases Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines (2017), and The Don of Diamond Dreams (2020).
The Seattle-based Shabazz Palaces debuted in 2009, the year they independently issued their self-titled and Of Light EPs. Neither Ishmael Butler (who became known in the early '90s as Butterfly of the Grammy-winning Digable Planets) nor percussionist Tendai Maraire (the son of mbira master Dumisani Maraire) was credited on either release. There were no press releases or promo shots, and the same went for interviews and social media presence, but that didn't prevent the local press from throwing praise at the EPs, which hit much harder than Digable Planets while carrying in the tradition of that group's forward-thinking wordplay.
Shabazz Palaces and Of Light also became favorites at Sub Pop, and in 2010, the indie rock-oriented institution signed the duo, releasing their debut album, Black Up, in 2011. Production on the LP was credited to Knife Knights, the shared and enduring alias of Butler and Erik Blood, while uncredited background vocals were provided by THEESatisfaction, who that year became Sub Pop's second hip-hop signee. Butler and Maraire appeared on their labelmates' AwE NaturalE in 2012.
After Maraire's Butler-assisted Chimurenga Renaissance released an LP in 2014, Shabazz Palaces returned later in the year with Lese Majesty. The album reached number ten on the R&B/hip-hop chart (28 slots higher than the debut) and entered the Billboard 200 at number 58. The next Shabazz Palaces release was Live at Third Man Records. Recorded at Third Man's Nashville Blue Room in 2015, it was pressed and released the following year, just before Butler's tour with the reunited Digable Planets reached full swing. Apart from a track for Adult Swim and involvement with Woke's contribution to the same singles program, there wasn't any fresh Shabazz Palaces material during this period.
In 2017, Butler and Maraire offered Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines and Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star. The simultaneously issued albums chronicled the journey of a celestial being navigating harsh realities of life on Earth. Two years later, Butler and Erik Blood released Knife Knights' 1 Time Mirage on Sub Pop. The Don of Diamond Dreams, Shabazz Palaces' fifth album, arrived in 2020. ~ Andy Kellman & David Jeffries