Shabazz Palaces are a Seattle based experimental hip hop duo, consisting of Ishmael Butler, formerly of Digable Planets, and Tendai Maraire. They’ve released two albums, ‘Black Up’ and ‘Lese Majesty’, which was released earlier this year; both received wide critical acclaim, and deservedly so. Tonight, the duo play the legendary Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, a venue specialising in the best independent music, across all genres, and there’s a sizeable crowd packed into the intimate venue for the show.
As the smoke machines cloud the stage, the glitchy synths and hard beats of ‘New Black Wave’ shake the room. Butler spits cooly and calmly from behind the desk; the live processing and triggering from the two members adds a whole other dimension to the performance. The grimy, screwface inducing instrumental of ‘Forerunner Foray’ backs swagged out spitting with a dreamy reverb. The haunting vocal sample, arpeggiated synth lines and intense kick drum transfix the crowd; Tendai’s live percussion is a dope addition, with the hi-hat, snare and congas being utilised exceptionally. The duo start ‘Youlogy’ with some synchronised moves, and the trippy, experimental sound is absorbing, with the pulsating beat and powerful kick drum impossible not to nod your head to.
The slow paced, trap influenced beat of ‘Harem Aria’ is a solid one; the rattling hi hats back a heartfelt and passionate delivery from Butler. His style of rapping is always a pleasure to listen to, and the skippy flow of ‘Free Press & Curl’ is dope. The textures Shabazz Palaces use to fill out a track are so unique, and the transition to the stage is a vivid, lively and animated one. The bars are always delivered cockily tonight, but it’s the innovation on display that really impresses.
The clicky kick drum, and simplistic but incredibly effective and threatening bassline of ‘Gunbeat Falls’ resounds around the venue, before the duo launch into ‘Kill White T’. The live processing and percussion compliment each other tremendously well, and makes for an incredibly unique effect. Butler’s flow is reminiscent of the trap rappers populating much of the charts across the pond, but this is clearly hip hop with far more integrity. The crunching kick and snare of ‘They Come In Gold’ make for a heavy beat for Ishmael to drop his bars over; he looks consistently calm, cool and collected.
The stage tonight is always a vivid spectacle; the lights change from red to blue to purple, creating an intimate but slightly surreal environment, which is perfect for the soundscapes on show tonight. The left-field, hard hitting beats are relentless, and they continue with a heavy performance of ‘Ishmael’. It’s a pity that the vocals are sometimes slightly inaudible, but this is something rap fans have become accustomed to, and the thick textures and the reverb on the vocals all adds to the mystique and abstract nature of Shabazz Palaces’ music. The sharp and glistening synthesisers of ‘Are You…Can You…Were You?’ fill the Brudenell Social Club with clarity, and the snapping snare and clap rolls of ‘Capital 5’ do the same.
The left-field, unique sound of ‘#CAKE’ shows their capabilities over a faster paced track, compared to much of tonight’s set, and Shabazz Palaces hold it down with no problem at all. The knocking beat and hard drum pattern of ‘Bop Hard’ is a highlight of tonight’s performance, with confidently delivered lyrics, as well as frantic and precise percussion captivating the audience. Butler’s consistent and tight flow is clearly evident on ‘Motion Sickness’, as is his clever and technical lyric writing. The duo deliver an outstanding performance of ‘Chuch’, with the abstract vocal samples and hard hitting drums setting the crowd into a back and forth motion for the final time. The fantastic groove created between Butler and Maraire is absolutely captivating, and the crowd give them a very warm reception as they depart the stage.
Shabazz Palaces are definitely one of the most interesting acts operating in the hip hop scene, and their stage show is equally as absorbing. The musical talents of Tendai Maraire are outstanding, and Ishmael Butler’s presence on a microphone is dope as well; the live processing is a great addition, and the Seattle duo put in a great shift tonight; see these guys if you ever get the chance!
By Sam Bennett