The news of Shabazz Palaces signing to Sub Pop caused some to question the logic of a rap group signing with an indie rock label. But Butterfly (or Enrico Palazzo or whatever he’s calling himself these days) is no dummy. He saw the demise of Digable Planets, and realized the absurdity of signing with a major label that will cut you one check and shelve you for perpetuity, unless you start collaborating with David Guetta. Ask Blu how that Warner Bros. deal is looking these days. I heard the demos he turned in — filled with beats from Samiyam and Flying Lotus that would sell 20,000 easily on a Warp, but will probably languish in a WB vault for eternity.
There’s a minor tradition of indie rap groups signing with indie rock labels. The Juggaknots recorded an album on Matador circa the fin de seicle. While Interpol’s ex-label also enlisted Non Phixion to cut a never-released effort. But since the indieground bubble burst, left-of-center rappers have been forced to grind largely in anonymity, with Def Jux folding, and even Anticon and Stones Throw veering away from rap.
Shabazz Palaces signed with Sub Pop because Stones Throw is the only hip-hop label that knows how to market their product. Their aesthetic is clear (stoned beats, funk, soul) and they shut down Internet bootleggers faster than Rex Banner. Getting marketed through traditional channels only ensures that you’ll get leaked to death and plastered on a bunch of boutique rapper-besotted blogs. No need to reiterate bromides about niche being the new mainstream. It’s obvious by now– as is the fact that SP will never cross-over onto Clear Channel stations.
Their sound takes late-period El-P and smashes it into smithereens, cross-breeding it with scuzzy bass music, with Lazeer lacing a bunch of off-beat, on-beat non sequiturs and Wire references. Their latest song “Barksdale Corners,” boasts hard-knocking drums and the bellowing taunt, “make it a place to go….drop shadowy zebra print…the white horse with the wings to fly.” It’s acid-rap with its feet grounded deep in the dirt. Space samples that sound like they came from the possessed, not the stoned. So when nearly every other rap label pushes the polished or the pedestrian, Shabazz Palaces got smart. Besides, at this point, their music has more in common with No Age than the swag circuit.
Download: (Via the Gorilla)