The cosmic futurism of Shabazz Palaces’ music has been an essential energy throughout the 2010s. Comprising of Ishmael Butler (formerly Butterfly of the legendary hip-hop group Digable Planets) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire, the eclectic, often mesmeric duo have throughout the years established themselves as one of the most forward-thinking artists within the genre. Their 2011 debut Black Up should be considered as one of the most important, experimental creations of the decade. It’s subdued, jazzy cosmic soundscape was a perfect palate for Ishmael’s eclectic vision. Lyrically he spoke of a higher power, not necessarily God, but a higher form of self. He’s always tried to strive for that place of peace, and throughout Shabazz Palaces’ eclectic and intriguing discography, he has continued to grow and fascinate. 2014’s Lese Majesty continued the similarly experimental and futuristic sound, while both 2017 concept albums Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines are ones I still need to revisit, but are equally as captivating and important. Their most recent album however, might be their most complete album to date. The Don Of Diamond Dreams was released back in April and was a release I definitely overlooked, but listening back to it, I can confidently say that it is one of the most interesting pieces of music I’ve listened to this year.
The one defining characteristic of Shabazz Palaces’ music is that it is in constant motion, constant evolution. It is a commonality for older veterans within hip-hop to feel out of touch with the younger generation shaping the sound of the genre, but Ishmael Butler’s relationship with his son Jazz, known as Lil Tracy, has helped him garner a better understanding and appreciation for the newer generation. And at the age of 51, Ishmael Butler’s sounds younger and more reinvigorated as ever before. Tendai “Baba” Maraire, on the other hand has seen his sound evolve into more atmospheric, stunningly lavish soundscapes. With each and every release, it seems like he continues to draw inspiration from his musically gifted father Dumisani Maraire, a Mbira master who has influenced his sound tremendously over the years. The angelic tone of tracks like “Fast Learner” featuring Purple Tape Nate and “Bad Bitch Walking” featuring Stas THEE Boss contain infectious synth leads that are layered over a bass-heavy beat. The melody of the latter track is infectious, and the featured verse felt youthful and reinvigorating. I generally love longer tracks, so seeing the track times on this album made me excited. Having said this, one of my favourite tracks is “Wet”, a futuristic, autotuned gem of a track that references the Based God, as Ishmael Butler shares his thoughts on the current hip-hop scene, bringing eclectic imagery and an incredible soundscape, with a stunning guitar solo near the end of the track. The trap influenced “Money Yoga” featuring Darrius is another interesting moment on the album, with a refrain that repeats “I gotta get my portion, I gotta get my money,” as a social commentary on hip-hop as a way to make ends meet and having it as a proper full-time job. The saxophone leads on this track, coupled with the atmospheric synth leads and beat makes for a fascinating listen. “Thanking The Girls” is a record dedicated to the girls and women in his life, a sweet, futuristic and modern track that sounds beautiful. “Reg Walks By The Looking Glass” features an autotuned, sung feature from Carlos Overall, and it’s a cosmic, Brian Eno-like track with spacious synths and an atmospheric tone that is spellbinding and showcases the extent of Tendai’s talents as a musician. A stunning soundscape that completely draws me in, it is the perfect closer to this reflective, fascinating album.
Growth. That’s the word to describe Shabazz Palaces and their musical evolution over the years. Their ability as a duo to constantly draw influences from the current musical landscape, while providing a reflective and eclectic project speaks volumes about their talents as musicians. The Don Of Diamond Dreams is a cosmic masterpiece, a youthful album about inner growth and fatherhood, beautifully captured in a 10 track album that sounds timeless. Big ups to Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire for this.