A rare interview with Shabazz Palaces
12-24-2010, 01:33 AM (This post was last modified: 12-24-2010 01:34 AM by achali.)
A rare interview with Shabazz Palaces
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Palaceer Lazaro, the man at the center of the enigmatic Seattle avant-rap project Shabazz Palaces, is otherwise known as Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler, one third of the boho-rap trio Digable Planets and frontman of the alt-hip-hop group Cherrywine. (He's also the cousin of fellow Rising artist Gonjasufi.) But he'd prefer not to talk about any of that. In fact, he'd prefer not to talk at all.
Lazaro initially declined Pitchfork's interview request, replying that he'd prefer to read a writer's take on Shabazz Palaces' music rather than offer his own answers. He won't name any of the other people involved in the project. He wouldn't send us a photograph; instead, he requested that we run the graphic you see above. Shabazz Palaces have no MySpace page, and they self-released two albums into the ether last year on their website. They're a group happy to work in the shadows.
Lazaro downplays that sense of mystery, but it works well with the music. On tracks like the BNM'ed "32 leaves dipped in blackness making clouds forming altered carbon", Shabazz Palaces make a clanking, discordant form of rap much colder and harsher than anything Butler ever made with Digable Planets or Cherrywine. Drums hit at irregular intervals, John Carpenter synth-smears bubble up from nowhere, and tracks follow their own internal logic, voices tripping over and interrupting each other. But as heady and experimental as these tracks may be, they still work as straight-up headknock rap music, as visceral as anything on the new Young Jeezy mixtape. It's smart, tough music.
Our interview with Lazaro is below.
Pitchfork: At first, you were reluctant to do this interview. Why do you prefer not to do interviews?
Palaceer Lazaro: We all feel, that this new era, this contentual era-- where content drives information-- is not interesting. It's not unique. None of the questions that are usually asked are very revealing. And also, it's difficult to really represent something as ethereal as what goes on, what becomes the music you make, and then try represent that in that Q&A form. We find that it's always more interesting when people, if they like your music, just go off on their own thing, just say what they think, instead of asking us about it. We've been leaving it up to writers and people that listen to the music, blogs and shit, to say whatever they want to say about it.
Pitchfork: So the music speaks for you more than an interview would?
Pitchfork: How do you hope to gain new listeners for your music?
PL: I just like the idea of earning a fan, a listener, an ear, a mood, a heart, rather than being placed in front of somebody with some sort of pre-determined outlook-- for someone to either adapt or not adapt based on what has been pushed on the plate in front of them. It also serves to help us, longevity-wise, when you have a slow grind. You know everything you gained along the way belongs to you. It's a genuine thing. It also allows us to be a little bit more concentrated, intimate with the people that dig us. We appreciate that slow roll.
Pitchfork: Who's in the group with you?
PL: Well, everybody that's in it is in it the same. We don't really say names, who did what. It's just really, really, really just about the final product, the songs. That's really it. That's why we don't really talk about it. There's no credits on the album-- no who did what, when, where, and why because we just don't feel like that's the point.
Pitchfork: How did you decide start making music like this?
PL: Everyone that's involved is artists and musicians. It's something that, whether you're actively doing it at that time or not, it's always on your mind. You're always relating life to what you do. We always make music; doing it together was something that seemed right at the time. It's difficult to even be able to chronicle it because it wasn't a super-duper conscious decision. Obviously, once you start making songs, pressing them up and doing artwork and stuff, it is. It was more natural than it was concerted. We just put it all into the music.
Pitchfork: The music isn't super constructed. Most rap songs seem to follow a similar blueprint: 16 bars, chorus, 16 bars, chorus. Your music tends not to progress that way. It tends to follow its own tangents and its own logic.
PL: Yeah. Well, it should, don't you think? It's hard to believe that most people subscribe to formulas, especially when it's not a requirement-- especially nowadays, when a lot of cats are putting their own shit out but still they feel it's necessary, due to a certain amount of indoctrination or programming. "Hey, this is the way you have to do it in order to be successful." We just have different views on all that kind of stuff. Not to say that we don't appreciate all of those kinds of music when they're good, but we don't really subscribe to that kind of formulaic thing. That's difficult to do and be successful, too, with all due respect to the pop artists. It's not an easy thing to do. In some ways, it's a little easier to do the way that we do it, but it just makes for a richer, more satisfying experience for us-- to be the way that we are without really knocking nobody else's hustles.
Pitchfork: You're also a member of Digable Planets, so you've actually had experience in that pop realm.
Pitchfork: Digable Planets were certainly not a straight up pop-rap group in any sense, but is that above-ground realm something you're consciously moving away from? You have had videos in rotation on MTV, and that doesn't seem like something you're striving for with Shabazz Palaces.
PL: Yeah, but I'm not striving against it either. The music isn't going to be something that is dictated by a bunch of other people that are holding the purse-strings and then feel like they have the right-- which they do if they're doing that-- to dictate the direction that you move in. That's the only thing. We're just not tripping on that kind of success.
Pitchfork: How do you relate what you do with Digable Planets to what you're doing with Shabazz Palaces? Is it two completely distinct things?
PL: It's just like how you would choose to wear something to an event. You're going to want to express your personal style, but at the same time there's a context. Whatever the event is, that dictates how you gonna get suited and booted. It's not separate. It's still me. It's still the same thing, but it's with different people, with different goals, with different history. It's hard to pin it down to a concise explanation.
Pitchfork: Shabazz Palaces don't have a MySpace page. Is there a specific reason why not?
PL: No, not really. It just didn't really suit our style. I mean that in a very literal sense. Nobody that we fuck with in the group is really the dude to really be on that-- maintaining it, updating it, designing it. It just didn't suit our taste. It was not like we were acting against it in any way.
Pitchfork: What about touring? Is that something you're interested in doing?
PL: Definitely. We want to broaden the scope of the music and get as many people to hear it, to have an opportunity to make a decision and hopefully dig it, if that's possible. A lot of people think this is some kind of conscious effort to be mysterious. Not really. It's just that we've got a different set of beliefs, experiences, and desires in terms of what success is. It's not a negative reaction to the way things are, really. It's just a personal choice for the cats that are involved.
Pitchfork: How then would you describe success with this particular project?
PL: Appreciation, you know? And with that comes material success too. Cats aren't really greedy though. Cats are more humble and have realistic expectations.
Pitchfork: Are you going to put out more music any time soon?
PL: Yeah. The next two ones are in the gun right now. They'll be done soon. We're working on that all the time.
Pitchfork: Are you going to continue to release records in twos?
PL: Perhaps. Nothing's really been decided. It just all happens on how they get done, what the succession is going to be. It isn't something that we've already thought about yet. I can't really say with any accuracy, but we're working on stuff every day. We're ready to get it out and get it completed. Along with that, the artwork is a big thing too. We let guys get their shit off on that, and then we got video cats that we're ready to get going, too.
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