For awhile, Shabazz Palaces was a band shrouded in mystery. And while that has changed to some extent, even now, their Sub Pop bio page still describes them as: “Like rich velvet hijabs or gold threaded abayas. Luxury as understood by the modest. Shabazz Palaces. If Bedouins herded beats instead of goats and settled in Seattle instead of the Atlas Mountains, this would be their album.”
Initially using the name Palaceer Lazaro, it wasn’t revealed until recently that the man at the center of it all, was in fact, Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler of the New York City jazz/hip-hop fusion trio Digable Planets. But all of that secrecy has changed of late, as their full-length dropped and the group started touring. When you listen to their debut, Black Up, all of it seems to make a bit more sense. Coined by some as avant-rap, Shabazz Palaces isn’t much like Digable Planets at all, and it certainly isn’t a typical Sub Pop release, either. This is something else entirely. Shabazz Palaces will be at the Casbah on Monday as part of a short West Coast run. I caught up with Butler recently from his home in Seattle, and we talked about this latest chapter in his musical life.
Scott McDonald: How is Seattle?
Ishmael Butler: It’s good. I left New York about five years ago. Moved out here. It’s nice.
SM: Have you been touring Black Up?
IB: Yeah, but mostly in Europe. We haven’t done a lot of domestic yet.
SM: I read that for awhile, you weren’t doing any press. Was it just too soon?
IB: At the time, when we first started coming out, I wanted to let the music take hold and was cool with whatever the music got us to. We were fine with being at that place. After the partnership with Sub Pop, you just have a little more responsibility in doing stuff like that. And we just have a different outlook now after doing a couple of years on the project.
SM: This seems like an interesting release for Sub Pop.
IB: The opportunity arose, and it was something that we couldn’t refuse. And after we met everyone there, we felt incredibly lucky to have that opportunity. It was a no-brainer.
SM: Black Up seems to keep changing the more I listen to it.
IB: Well, it wasn’t constructed with any kind of intent. We don’t believe that we can forecast what the possible listeners are going to react to, or how it’s going to be taken. But I like what you said, and that’s how it’s happening for you. That makes me feel good about the content — that it has that breadth and depth. That’s cool.
SM: Are you consciously making music that’s in contrast to what’s out there?
IB: Only to the extent that I feel like when you make new music, you have to rely on your instinct. Through your instinct, you can be original, because your instinct is only beholden to yourself and the people you’re working with. If you understand that what you make — even though it may not always be what you hear, or what you’re influenced by — it will be uniquely you. And you have to have courage to live with whatever happens when you stick with your instinct. We just go with what we innately know, and once it’s down, we stick with it.
SM: Whatever it is, people seem to be feeling it.
IB: It’s beautiful. I feel lucky and it’s magical. Happy is an understatement as far as how things have turned out.
SM: Have the industry changes in the time between Digable and Shabazz hurt or helped things?
IB: I think it depends on your expectations, and whether they’re being met or not, how you deal with it. I only expect the music to take me wherever it takes me, therefore, if things go one way or the other, it’s not that I have expected anything, so I can’t be disappointed. People say they do what they want, but behind the scenes, they do what other people want. Some people only want certain aspects of it. Whether it’s fame or notoriety or money, even though some things go against their instinct or better judgment, they’re doing it because they want these other things. That’s a choice they make. It’s not one I make, but I understand it. But me and the cats I roll with, and make music with, have come to a place where we approach it differently. It works for us, and everything comes up roses when you look at it like that.
Originally published by NBC San Diego on October 17,2011