Witness the most cosmic act in hip-hop, Shabazz Palaces, unleashing a hyperdrive tapestry live in the KEXP studio.
The whirlwind performance shuffles tracks from the best album of 2014, Lese Majesty, unfolding fresh aspects of their sound. There’s also a fine interview, discussing the recording process and what it feels to be making music that sounds like absolutely nothing else on earth.
These guys do not fuck around.
I dug this video from my drafts after listening to the groundbreaking album, Blowout Comb, from vocalist Ishmael Butler’s previous group, Digable Planets. In one of the most improbable second acts in music history, an early 90s underground rap hero emerged over a decade later with a new (at first mysteriously anonymous) project, breaking the few remaining rules of hip-hop like some young start up. With the group’s second album, they transcended all genre definitions, creating a sound as pure as it is unique.
Shabazz Palaces have officially joined weird, pioneering heroes like Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart, Aphex Twin, and John Coltrane in truly rarefied space.
Inspired by a friend’s reminder, I cued up one of my favorite albums of all time: Blowout Comb, the underrated second and final release from Digable Planets. For those who aren’t familiar, they are jazz-inspired contemporaries of monumental groups A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul… but they go way deeper.
This album is the real deal. Here’s the second to last song, a kind of manifesto:
I don’t really have anything clever or interesting to say about this song, other than this: it hits me right in the feels.
Who is Kamasi Washington? He’s the guy who made all of the fantastic sax sounds that you loved on both recent (and brilliant) Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar releases. Albums You’re Dead and To Pimp A Butterfly would feel utterly lacking without Washington’s input; his freewheeling tones form the sharp jazz edge cutting through both masterpieces.
This 14 minute tune is but a small piece of the upcoming, appropriately-titled debut album The Epic – it looks to be a sprawling, three hour affair aiming to throw down the gauntlet for modern jazz. In a genre valued for innovation and stratospheric ambition, the traditional live jazz band has been laying in stasis for a couple decades now. Real innovation has come from beyond left field, from electronic artists playing with jazz forms and ideals while never really touching the live band setup. Washington could change that perception.
As Flying Lotus himself put it, “everybody is trying to do the same shit. I don’t want to hear ‘My Favorite Things’ anymore.”
As a hardcore fan of the genre myself, I couldn’t put it any more plainly. This tune, along with a new exclusive song featured on Revive (I hope to have a copy streaming here soon) have jumpstarted my hopes for a new generation of the kind of wildly psychedelic, expansive, weird jazz that sits near and dear to my heart. Fans of later John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and especially Pharoah Sanders are highly encouraged to listen right now.
One last thing: Washington has been featured on this site before, as part of the Miguel Atwood-Ferguson ensemble. The band included Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Rebekah Raff, and Chris “Daddy” Dave, some of the best jazz musicians alive today. Their live take on Drips//Take Notice is one of the greatest live jazz performances recorded in the past few decades, if that’s any indication of this man’s talent.
Combing my list of unfinished drafts, I sometimes unearth little gems. This one began as a nod to a certain New Orleans ambient noise band, but quickly veered into a miniature Grand Statement about what I get out of music.
This self portrait is a handy visual metaphor for the words you’re about to read.
I was discussing Belong‘s debut album, October Language. I was living in San Francisco and had picked up the album on CD at Aquarius Records. The following is what I wrote almost exactly 4 years ago. I’m sharing because it still applies to my life.