Thursday, July 13, 2017

Shabazz Palaces - Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star Review



In almost every aspect of art there's a battle between young and old. As newer generations implant their mark, leaving later generations baffled and confused, a certain arrogance, superiority, and disdain emerges in a desperate plea to retain what is, or once was, deemed great. The youth flaunt their art as the greatest and latest, careless to respecting the past, while the old burrows in their traditional ways, remaining willfully ignorant. In Hip-Hop, this polarity is stronger than ever. Sure, long-withstanding genres like Rock have endured this seniority battle for decades, but Hip-Hop has just now concluded its first generation. Countless beefs have emerged, culminating in what I find as the impeccable synopsis of all this egotism; the Joe Budden/Migos calamity on the BET red carpet. It had everything. Budden in a plain white tee and pants fed up with Migos' presence, and Migos, clad head to toe in lavish blouses, cuffing up their sleeves ready to brawl. What's all this have to do with Shabazz Palaces' latest dual LP Quazarz? Well, Ishmael Butler finds himself precariously sandwiched between both; condemning the actions of the youth, Hip-Hop and otherwise, while remaining ahead of their own curb. Born On A Gangster Star asserts itself as a cultural critique from a post-post-post-Trap time traveler.

Disguised through other outlets, this is nothing new for Shabazz Palaces. All the way back on 2011's impeccable Black Up, Butler damned the phonies with the brutish 'Yeah You,' something that would continue on 2014's Lese Majesty with tracks like 'They Come In Gold' or 'Motion Sickness.' The conflicting sentiment of Shabazz Palaces, rooted in their own aesthetic, is that of intention. They're the only Hip-Hop group to ever discredit the actions of the new age, with the knowledge that they were bred in the old (Butler co-created Digable Planets back in the early 90's), whilst simultaneously leaping beyond the modern era to something it one day hopes to reach. Wrap a loose concept of an otherworldly being discovering America and you have Quazarz. Of course, there's no mask hiding the fact that Quazarz is merely Butler's belief beacon, much like Deltron 3030 was for Del The Funkee Homosapian, or Cargo #2231 was for Daveed Diggs. Even more so than those two creations, Quazarz's haughty demeanor and condemnation of modern society represents the bulk of these two LP's. While overly indistinguishable to Jealous Machines, Gangster Star acts more as a spiritual introduction to the suave alien himself.

The question lies; do we give Butler a pass for chastising Rap's megastars because his outlet lies in Experimental Hip-Hop rather than conventional Boom Bap? The answer lies in the grey fold. Gangster Star begins with 'Since C.A.Y.A.,' another welcome addition to Shabazz Palaces' wonderful opening collection. The first thing one shall notice, apart from the lively aquatics and off-kilter flows, is that Quazarz's world is not all that different from our own. His friends have nicknames upon nicknames, his wealth flaunted to attract companionship, his slang nearly unintelligible to those not in the inner circle, his decadence outfitted with the most stylish jewels and leathers. It's there, and throughout Gangster Star, that you realize Shabazz Palaces is not far removed from the self-prescribed "ethers of the Migosphere here on Drake world." While they use planetary leaps, a future Earth would've been more apt. And besides, if we're to concentrate Quazarz into a solar system-spanning concept album, Splendor & Misery has them beat by light years. From 'Shine A Light' to 'Parallax,' 'When Cats Claw' to 'Fine Ass Hairdresser,' Gangster Star works far better as a not-so covert critique of modern "Amurderica" from a future one that hasn't evolved all that much.

What's this mean for the music? Ironically, it's quite dumbed down, at least with what we're to expect from the duo. The passage of time on Gangster Star is so that the pace never gets off the ground, merely mulling around for 36 minutes until the album fades away on the instrumental 'Federalist Papers.' Along with the closer, 'Dèesse Du Sang' and 'The Neurochem Mixalogue' are also lyric-less, intent on manifesting an aura of orbital panache that relies on engrossing bass, unnatural bleeps and bloops, and alien vocals slathered in autotune. Rarely does the production impress though, as more elaborate constructs, or more tangible ones, have appeared in Shabazz Palaces' catalogue before. There are some memorable pieces though, like the nimble, afro-futuristic 'Parallex' that warps a lost gurgle in a disarray of Jazz-like percussion, or 'Shine A Light,' Gangster Star's red herring. The lead single prompted the LP as retrofitted Boom Bap, with scratched 70's Soul samples and Lo-Fi mannerisms, only for the accompanying ten tracks to sound like nothing of the sort. For aesthetic purposes, 'Shine A Light' would've been a needed teleport to a new style. Rather, Gangster Star remains content in superfluous Experimental Hip-Hop.

That being said, there's still a trove of alluring detail to be found in the hidden confines, a bonus when adjusted for the more simplistic, street-thumping anthems of 'That's How City Life Goes' and 'Moon Whip Quaz.' The latter in particular, stretching over five-minutes, is Gangster Star's longest track, and depending on how you appreciate it, a total make or break moment for the album. The redundant, repetitive, House obsession trails endlessly with systematic enthusiasm, celebrating Quazarz birth on the gangster star for what seems like no other reason than to fill space. Yet, it's wholly indelible, with excess levels of Funk pouring through like a late-era George Clinton monstrosity. Against the more intricate finesse moves, like 'Since C.A.Y.A.'s' fantastically cavernous opening verse, the simplicity of these moments helps to break up the monotony of sustained self-boasting, as seen on 'Fine Ass Hairdresser' or the weak and forgettable 'Eel Dreams.' All that being said, the direction of Gangster Star is one as conflicting as the type of music itself. The success lies solely on Butler's intentions, or more directly, whether or not he's aware of the similarities he cherishes in Quazarz and those he mocks in modern day rappers.

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