Shabazz Palaces offer the least compromises, which makes them the most radical. It’s not so much fear of speaking out that frightens political artists, but fear of fucking up the money. A decade and a half after “The Real Slim Shady,” rebellion is largely a pose. You can market revolutionary sentiment to college kids in Che caps for only so long and generally your career is over faster than you can say “mind sex.” The much safer move is to put swagger above sedition — eat healthy for a few years and try to ride the next wave. But there are no waves left for Shabazz Palaces to surf. Ish already watch the boho jazz-rap cellar dwellers aesthetic come and go before conscious rap became a thing. At a certain point, he realized that survival was based on more than creating a new lane — it was based on creating an entire eco-system.
Shabazz Palaces have no peers. They don’t sound like anyone else in rap or otherwise. They probably would’ve won the Rap Vocabulary Rodeo that appeared on your Facebook wall, had anyone thought to include them. Ish is talking about sepulchers and pasquinades. It’s refreshing to hear someone intelligent take dead aim at the poisons of our society without preaching. And improve your SAT score.
The secret is that Shabazz Palaces are permanently encrypted — or as he says, “we converse in ancient languages.” The beat drops out from a robot David Banner gunner funk to an almost pastoral drone. There is no obvious rules to any of this, other than letting instincts guide you. There is also a reference to Captain Ahab’s boat, the Pequod, and probably veiled shots at Trinidad James. All in all, a very satisfying return that would succeed in getting them on several CIA watch lists — if anyone in Washington D.C. could crack the code.