Hip hop today is such a divided house that the genre can barely hold it together.
On the one side pop rappers are stuck in cliche and routine formulas. But on the other experimental groups are feeling free to stray into far away musical and lyrical territory.
Longstanding Seattle duo Shabazz Palaces—who’ve just released a new album, The Don of Diamond Dreams—are firmly in the second category.
The pair are Ishmael Butler, once known as Butterfly of hip hop outfit Digable Planets, and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire.
They’ve drawn from George Clinton and Sun Ra and fused them with the contemporary sounds of Thundercat and Flying Lotus.
Musically, the result is often about as cathartic as hip hop gets—and all the more interesting for it. But as to what they are rapping about I couldn’t really tell you.
Take the track Money Yoga, which I really like and concludes with a great winding sax solo.
Just occasionally I could get hold of the lyric and follow it, only for it to disintegrate into something else. And maybe that’s their point.
We are so used to rap being encapsulated stories, with conventional narratives, that something different has to be done if hip hop is to evolve.
Maybe trying to tell a story just isn’t the name of the game anymore.
But there are real dangers to the conceptual approach.
Sometimes it just sounds like the stream of consciousness of someone who’s smoked a bit too much.