Shabazz Palaces is the adventurous hip-hop outlet of former Digable Planets MC Ishmael Butler and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Mariare.
Based in Seattle, the group is signed to the historically rock-centric Sub Pop label. We talked to Butler before Shabazz Palaces' show tonight at the Fox Theatre about consumerism, the innate power of music and the goals he has for the newly released Lese Majesty.
The new record is not a radical departure from 2011's Black Up. It has similar composition, and the music contains a combination of poetic imagery, innovative rhythms and an organic political critique.
"It's not just political," says Butler. "It's a system of materialism, individualism and consumerism, really. We're trying to get motherfuckers to relate to brands, and hopefully that relationship will yield profits for the people selling it. When you buy these things for you, you can attach yourself to these brands and they'll have some meaning and symbols for other people.
"These other people will know how to treat you and behave toward you. It's just a lack of essentials. Humanity is being pushed aside for this glorified consumerism and this collective lunacy we're all participating in. So it's just music to contemplate that to and dance and get high to and all that kind of stuff.
"Music has the power to put people deeper into it. I also think it can take people out of it. Music can do anything. Everything that we are has vibrations. Even just the way that we generally communicate, it's all just vibrations of different kinds. It's all rhythmic, it's all sonic, it's all melodic, it's all harmonic. So people that organize those things into what we call 'songs' and 'music' are just diving deeper into our essential humanness."
"There's a lot of people choosing music as a vehicle to get them to some financial or social destination, but music chose me," concludes Butler. "I'm just doing what seems and feels right and natural."
What feels right and natural for Butler also happens to be music that is helping to expand what hip-hop can be and its appeal beyond genre considerations.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.