Turn Off Your Swag
I wonder what to make of hip white audiences’ adoration of Ishmael Butler’s return as one half of Shabazz Palaces with Black Up, a decidedly ‘underground’ hip-hop smash holding the honor of being Sub Pop’s first album of the type. I’m part of that adoring audience, favoring only The Roots’ Undun over it for best rap album of 2011. But Sub Pop has been a label for Pitchfork-junkies and indie-kids, hardly the ideal spot for a hip-hop collective to get its start. Nevertheless, both artists featured today have done just that, and along with Spoek Mathambo, they’ve made the case that the folks at Sub Pop aren’t completely disconnected from the world outside skinny jeans. Let’s just hope they lose the skinny jeans.
SHABAZZ PALACES – Live at KEXP (Sub Pop): Ridiculous enough as the idea of a live rap EP is, this 2000-print Record Store Day exclusive comprised of one new song, the first two cuts of Black Up and the tail end of Shabazz Palaces finds Ishmael Butler sounding more lively than on 2011’s full-length or either of his 2009 EPs where he lazily laid down lines over primo African drum arrangements adorned with haunting reverbs. All of which is still here, but instead of the beats imploding at the end, they trip up, strip down, come back full force, giving those haughty lyrics some heft. Probably impossible to find a physical copy now—and probably not worth the pretty price tag—though it’s readily available for streaming everywhere on the net. And watching Tendai Maraire play the kalimba is more rewarding than just hearing it. B PLUS
THEESATISFACTION – awE naturalE (Sub Pop): Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White’s anti-swag hip-hop rhythms are as unorthodox as their off-key Afro-neo-soul melodies; a refreshing sound. Yet something sits askew. This thirteen song set has a runtime barely surpassing thirty minutes—nine cuts run under 3:00—and like label counterpart Shabazz Palaces are drawn even more so to humorless political platitudes parading as stream-of-consciousness philosophizing. At least Ishmael Butler has meaning muddled beneath all that murk. Extract what you will from “Hitler stashed Obamas wearing army colored sashes / rainbow flags blowing, burning crosses, sprinkled ashes / in the oiled waters of the dollars dropped on masses / THEESatisfaction could give a fuck about a fascist,” but without a whiff of irony you think they’re tackling everything from gay parades to oil spills in one blow . Might be the punk of funk—not fast and dirty, but goes straight for the chorus and barely bothers with verse or bridge, the only bit I’m willing to subscribe to being the mantra from disco-stew “Queens”: “Whatever you do / Don’t funk with my groove.” A MINUS