Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012
Better than: Expecting a Digable Planets reunion.
I won't lie: if I wasn't sure what to expect of Shabazz Palaces. I secretly hoped I might witness a Digable Planets revival at the very least.
There was no need. Shabazz Palaces is the brainchild of Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler, whose boho cool lent much to the jazz-minded Digable Planets sound. Under the name Palaceer Lazaro, here he's combined an even more ancient musical past with something as surreal as it is primordially familiar.
Yoshi's was a fitting venue, with its Zen-like, adult-contemporary atmosphere. Butler was joined by percussionist Tendai Maraire, whose neat dreads and vintage Aviators reminded many of Lil Wayne. Maracas, djembes, and a tambourine accompanied a Micro Korg outfitted with a vocoder, which Maraire used to compliment Butler's spoken word/sermon rap.
Against a backdrop awash in burgundy, warm orange, and rose lights, the two together drew an audience spread over a crowded floor and upper balcony. Shabazz's music is an occultist thump of Sun Ra's cosmic mysticism and gently stuttering hip-hop. The scene felt a little like a seance, and the numerous blunts handed around glowed like little candles.
It was the gentlest hip-hop show, if it can be called that, in recent memory. Perhaps because of the inherent weirdness, the vibe felt intimate and relaxed. People excused themselves, slunk unconsciously, and maybe thought seriously about astral projection. I drank champagne and felt the bubbles rise to my head.
Maybe there was a little too much atmosphere. Thanks to a kind of extraterrestrial filter, Butler's charged poetics were muddied. But the songs floated into one another, like a perfectly seamless mixtape, and the two engaged in synchronized stage play, casually gesturing and falling into B-Boy postures.
Much like Digable Planets, Butler combines worlds upon worlds of black culture, and Shabazz Palaces is a languorous but enchanting blend of pan-Africanism, Sufi chants, and cryptic hip-hop. I feel high just thinking about it.
Personal bias: I'm a sucker for mood lighting.
Overheard: "This is tribal. Like in a good way"; "I study race, bro. I'm a racist."