The title of Shabazz Palaces’ second full-length, ‘Lese Majesty’, refers to the crime of not giving complete worship and reverence towards a leader. Speak up or dispute a king’s reign and you can expect a devilish knock at the door. Grammy winner Ishmael Butler isn’t a conventional revolutionary, but an experimental edge was exposed in Technicolor on his latest project’s 2011 full-length ‘Black Up’. If anyone is splintering hip-hop into a collage of strange pieces, shaping a genre into the complete opposite of a mirror’s image, it’s Shabazz Palaces.
Their ambition is there to be seen, right in the track list of ‘Lese Majesty’. A collection of songs is split into seven suites, each of which is indecipherable on first listen. The whole record initially comes off like a collision of crackpot thoughts; abstract lyrics; abstract synthetics; all abstract everything. Eventually ‘Lese Majesty’ exposes its rigid structure, giving hints of ‘Black Up’ but overall daring to go further and deeper than anything on the debut.
This is a ludicrous record, highlighted best in the maddening ‘#CAKE’, which takes a delicious foolhardy snack and turns it into a weapon. ‘Forerunner Foray’ mixes lift music, gameboy samples and ominous spoken word samples into something resembling a symphony, all packed together in dangerous compression. This is a record that can pendulum swing from an ether-effect (‘Harem Aria’) to a romantic lull (‘Noetic Noiromantics’). There are no rules. That’s the point.
It’s almost a punk record, in some senses. Choruses don’t exist, songs rarely spanning further than the two-minute mark. Snapshot ideas are given a stage. Taken on their own they’re abrasive, dark beings that don’t outstay their welcome. Combined - and combined into suites, for crying out loud - they form an intentionally overbearing record. ‘Lese Majesty’ exists to overwhelm. It’s a movement that says no to convention, kicks and screams in the face of standard norms. There won’t be another record like it in 2014, and Butler will do well to re-discover his inner madness if he’s to make an album this insane ever again.