Shabazz Palaces at Fine Line Music Cafe, 4/19/13
Image by Leif Podhajsky/Original band photo by David Belisle
Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis
Seattle's Shabazz Palaces made the first stop on their current tour at the Fine Line. The multi-faceted team of Tendai 'Baba' Maraire and Palaceer Lazaro, formerly known as Butterfly of Digable Planets, came together for a unique take on rap. Their sound is truly unlike any other, evidenced when indie rock institution Sub Pop made them the first rap crew on the label, where they released their next-level release Black Up. Experimental rap that incorporates a wide variety of black music via drum machines, congas and maxed-out vocal effects, it was a strong set in its scope.
Somalian duo Malitia Mali Mob warmed the crowd up early, with hard murder raps that didn't fully reflect the group's back story. Citing the struggle of growing up in a war zone, the duo edged toward a violent street rap style that could stand more nuance to better represent their individual experiences. Guns and "beating the pussy up" are topics that are well covered already, and while the Mob hit an adequate stride in their take on Chicagoan drill music, it never seemed to differentiate itself when it clearly had the potential to do so. Dancing with the Somalian flag while awash in dark red lights made for an interesting stage presence, but the lyrics never delved beyond superficial territory. Still, it was nice to see some legitimate modern youth-driven rap in this setting alongside a crowd that covered the angles from fans of soul, EDM, old school rap, and indie rock. The set foretold the range of styles the night offered.
THEESatisfaction came out dancing in unison to beats blasted overhead via laptop, sadly without their full live band in tow. Still, Sas and Cat are dynamic performers on their own, and created an understated live vibe with synchronized movements and vocal routines simultaneously reminiscent of Motown soul, jazz crooners, and early '90s hip-hop. Strikingly smooth, in abstract rhythms that tease around the pop standard, the hybridized rap and R&B compelled the audience to dance but refused to dictate how. The crowd grooved along however they felt the particular beat, and the song's fluid pacing kept a tight energy as they mingled between vocal stylings. It was buoyant and slick, slipping fluidly back and forth from raps to sung harmonics with ease. Their set fit perfectly as a warm-up for the bent rhythms of Shabazz Palaces.
With a dramatic entrance set to a sampled speech against reversed vocal tapestries, Palaceer Lazaro and Tendai 'Baba' Maraire emerged from the dark to station themselves at their instruments. The stage was occupied with microphones, hand drums, drum machines, and various percussive instruments; the lights were dimly lit blues and greens. Immediately the experience revealed itself as unlike any other as the music floated just above any of its influences.
The psychedelia crept through underneath while the raps maintained an aggressive swagger that kept the sound grounded. The clouded electronic beats were kept organic with the addition of live traditional drums that evoked afro-centric jazz percussion. Vocal effects tiptoed around the experimental side of auto-tuned club music while chanting lyrics that felt liked staged poetry. Rhythmically all over the map, the music stayed tethered by Lazaro's learned grasp of open-minded rapping, which found the head-nod potential in any cracked beat like it was well-worn territory. They definitely made it look easy, and had great charisma with each other.
Lazaro's former stint as Butterfly in the early '90s jazz-driven rap group Digable Planets showcased his talent with slickness and down-tempo vocals, but his more recent work brings in a number of influences. There's plenty of old guard rappers that have difficulty expanding beyond their initial voice, but Lazaro revealed himself as one of the strongest of his generation in terms of maintaining fresh ideas. The multiplicity of sonics coming forward during the long set stayed concrete and distinctly hip-hop. As tweaked as the sound gets, it's really just amplifying the strange ideas already implicit in the styles being played with.
The distorted and slow-dripping "An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum" was an exemplary track, splitting the verses on either side of the song with an extended steel drum solo by Maraire. Moments of musical stability shifted quickly into chaotic changes, but the crowd found themselves on the same page and let expectations disappear. When THEESatisfaction returned to join the group for the tail-end of their set, it felt like a full-fledged group and the sound spread to different territory. The exploratory aesthetic of both groups really came forward and the collaborative energy was a highlight of the night, capping off the rollercoaster night with a certain intensity. There really is nothing else like Shabazz Palaces, and live they bring into plain view all the elements that make up their "afro-eccentric" gumbo. I was absorbed and enthralled their entire set and I wasn't the only one.
Personal Bias: I like rap that leans into experimental territory but often more so in theory than execution. The idea of evolving beyond rap is an uncomfortable frame of thinking for me and I prefer when the sound is toyed with but not abandoned.
The Crowd: More indie heads that hip-hop heads though it did strike me as a diverse crowd in terms of people's musical interests.
Overheard in the Crowd: "The spirit compels me!"
Kill White T
Bronny On A Breakaway
Free Press And Curl
An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum
Swerve... The Reeping Of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding)
A Mess, The Booth Soaks In Palaci