With their ambitious double-album release, Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire, better known as experimental hip hop voyagers Shabazz Palaces, have introduced us to a brand new persona: Quazarz, “a sentient being from somewhere else”. On the companion to ‘Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines’, ‘Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star’, our protagonist lands on Earth (or “Drake world”), experiencing American life as it is today.
‘…Jealous Machines’ is another instalment in the epic Quazarz saga. As its title suggests, this time he’s battling a very different foe: technology. In the words of Shabazz Palaces, he discovers a world where “humankind’s relationship with their tech-devices has become weirdly sensual, seducing a sedentary seamlessness with humans.” Butler and Maraire ask the listener to dive into the strange, dystopian universe with Quazarz once more, except this time, the interstellar traveller is fighting back.
Although, just because there’s a battle against the ‘Jealous Machines’ doesn’t mean Shabazz Palaces are particularly musically bombastic and scattershot here. Much like its companion, it’s an album that’s relatively restrained – at least by their standard. There’s a deep hip hop pulse to many of the tracks, which sometimes transform themselves into jungle beats, usually accompanied by galactic synth stabs and waves of sound that transport the listener to a cosmic plane. Listen closely and you’ll hear a brief, almost Middle Eastern melody floating underneath the bars or a tumbling marimba, but there’s far fewer instances the Game Boy samples or lift music that sometimes punctuated 2014’s ‘Lese Majesty’.
Where ‘…Jealous Machines’ differs from ‘…Gangster Star’ is that Butler’s cascading, poetic rhymes are at the forefront of the album, making his philosophical musings easier to digest. That tone is set from opener ‘Welcome To Quazarz,’ which begins with an extended spoken-word segment that details how “the television is my lover,” and that people in this dystopian universe have become “targets for the markets.” Mobile phones come in for particular criticism on the album, described as a “glowing phantom limb” that can’t be put down, resulting in people being “lost in the web.”
The boldest moment on ‘Jealous Machines’ comes with ’30 Clip Extension,’ a juggernaut that weaves in electronic slides alongside heavy beats and a thunderous, reverberating riff. In amongst the sound and the fury, the listener is taken through time, from the 1960s to 2017 with its computers and processors, to 2064, when the pair suggest that we might be able to expect “defenders,” “aggressors” and “credit cards.” They even hint at a hyper-capitalistic society in their critique of “your favourite rapper” who has been “fashioned by some unknown hand” in an attempt to appeal to an audience. It’s something of a spiritual successor to ‘Shine A Light’ from ‘Gangster Star,’ which encouraged us to “shine a light on the fake.”
Alongside this growling beast, ‘The SS Quintessence’ emerges as one of the most melodic and accessible tracks on the record, vaguely evoking early Massive Attack. That just makes its statements on the nature of technology-driven capitalism all the more pointed. It speaks of how people “would allegiance their hearts with fascists” for money, and the way in which otherwise rebellious youth become sedated by devices “and all the questions were ceased from asking.”
The amazingly-titled ‘Love In The Time Of Kanye’ kicks off with a voice, all but drowned out in the haze of half-sleep, telling the listener “hey man, wake up!” That moment sums up the idea behind ‘Jealous Machines’ perfectly: that maybe we should be more aware of just how much time we’re spending glued to our screens. For 45 minutes, it’s worth putting down the glowing phantom limb and just hearing out what Shabazz Palaces have to say.