Shabazz Palaces

Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines

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Three years to the month they released Lese Majesty, rapper Ishmael Butler, percussionist Tendai Maraire, and a small cast of associates returned with the follow-up and the follow-up's follow-up -- the third and fourth Shabazz Palaces albums. Produced by Butler and a new collaborator, veteran studio dweller Sunny Levine, Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines was birthed first. Here we have Butler, still under the guise of the Palaceer Lazaro, writing from the perspective of Quazarz, transmitting live from "Amurderca." Not a crew but a character, Quazarz visits Earth to observe and participate in what sounds like a codependent relationship between the planet's inhabitants and technology. He's simultaneously enchanted and mystified by the device that is his "glowing phantom limb," "Watching all the currents enticing my mind/Gluttons for distractions, swiping all the time." As if to reflect the protagonist's own short attention span, that song's hook is disconnected, a distanced if cutting summary of contemporary commercial rap: "Everybody rappin', everybody trappin'." Going by these and similar sentiments regarding materialism and narcissism, Quazarz is likely around the same age as Butler and despite a different home planet might have had his views shaped by similar life experiences. Even if these askew critiques regarding style-over-substance artists and other attention seekers, from the "soulless soul singer" to the "selfie-stick samurais," come across as tiresome, Butler's voice navigates masterfully through the cosmic slop. In a way, it too is a softly narcotizing beam, coursing through slow-motion, spaced-out avant-funk and lurching creep-show house rhythms with typically mind-bending wordplay. Compared to Lese Majesty, this similarly concise set is a bit murkier and only slightly less enticing.

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