Shabazz Palaces ‘Black Up': An amazing musical journey

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Artist: Shabazz Palaces
Album: Black Up
Hometown: Seattle
Label: Sub Pop
Score: 9.5/10

Let’s get this out of the way, Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up is an amazing album. In fact, it might be the best local album of the year.

But whether Black Up is the best local album of the year and where it lands on yearly best-of lists isn’t what’s important here. What’s important is letting you know that Black Up is a record that will not only capture the attention of a listener’s ears, it will also capture a listener’s imagination. It’s one of those rare albums that not only gets better with every listen, it also seemingly evolves every time you press play. I’m not spitting hyperbole here by saying that when you listen to this record you will have a new understanding of the phrase “next level shit.”

Whether you find yourself wrapping your mind around the seemingly mystical lyrical powers of Shabazz MC Palaceer Lazaro, or getting lost in its speaker-swelling bass, or digging deeper into some of its Afrocentric undertones, there’s so much complexity and outright hip-hop mastery here that it almost feels like Palaceer Lazaro and his partner Tendai Maraire are attempting to redefine a genre. Simply put, this isn’t an album you latch onto, Black Up latches on to you and it doesn’t let go.

Like it’s crushed velvet packaging with embedded golden specks, Black Up is something you appreciate as a work of art. On it’s surface it’s just a record comprised of 10 excellently crafted songs with dense layers of beats, unorthodox structures and intellectually intriguing lyrics. But if you couldn’t already tell, this is is isn’t an album you take at face value.

Black Up is not something you simply listen to and leave. It’s an album that will consume you if you allow it and once it gets settled into your consciousness it will take you on a musical journey unlike any other you have experienced. And it’s a journey well worth taking, over and over again.

Shabazz Palaces celebrates the release of Black Up with three local shows this week. The first is a free in-store performance at Easy Street Records in Queen Anne at 7 p.m. tonight. The group also plays two shows at Neumos on Thursday (June 30) and Friday (July 1). Tickets for the Nuemos shows cost $15 and can be purchased here.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 13 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and former editor of the defunct music site Ear Candy.