Interviews

Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler: ‘S’pore, we ain’t gonna follow no rules’

By Zul AndraEvents - 13 June 2013 5:53 PM | Updated 10:43 AM

Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler: ‘S’pore, we ain’t gonna follow no rules’

Seattle-based hip-hop collective Shabazz Palaces is due to perform in Singapore next week (21 June) in a club in The Riverwalk, and fans can look forward to “stuff” they have not played before.

Ishmael Butler, one-half of the outfit, revealed this in a phone interview from the US.

He is also unfazed by police regulations on performances in publicly licensed venues such as nightclubs, where there are rules on dressing, performance areas, as well as performance material.

When notified of these since it would be their first visit to Singapore, Butler said candidly: ““I can tell you that we ain’t following no rules. We are going to be excited and intrigued. There are stuff that we haven’t played yet, and y’all be getting some of this.”

'An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum'

Born and raised in Seattle, the frontman – formerly from the Grammy-winning Digable Planets –opines that with the widespread reach of the internet, his hometown’s hip-hop scene has been gaining grounds since it didn’t share the ideals that founded the genre to begin with.

In a rap world obsessed with the blings and the Benjamins (Sean "Diddy" Combs made his name rapping about his desire for Benjamins, aka US$100 bills), the Escalades (vehicles of choice) and lemonades, and where having problems is an incredibly orgasmic thing, Seattle’s cream of the crop prefers to move away from the norm.

“Where you’re from doesn’t define you,” Butler asserted, “what’s around you does.”

“I can say that we [Seattle’s hip-hop artistes] stand together in a manner that we work on what we want to work on. We couldn’t care less about doing all it takes to be accepted or conforming far enough to be popular. To whom should we do that for? The best people here are truly their own originators,” Butler explained.

Shabazz Palaces
Shabazz Palaces

IDENTITY CRISIS

To understand more on what has been going on, a brief look at the scene in the US: Hip-hop in its Pacific Northwest has been grappling with an identity crisis for decades.

From Portland to Seattle and up to Vancouver, hip-hop artistes there are nowhere as thuggish as their West Coast brethren or as Afro-militant as their East Coast counterparts.

While forerunners such as Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, and Dr Dre from the west work on perfecting the sound of automatic weapons in their productions, and acts such as A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers and Public Enemy from the east were voicing against the bureaucratic powers that be, Seattle-natives Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, and Chris Cornell sang of suffering and isolation in a genre that arguably made MTV bearable.

Pre-grunge, Seattle’s most famous musical icon was Jimi Hendrix, but this largest city in the northwest of America was completely off the hip-hop radar, and hip-hop acts were confined to small-scaled performance venues and had limited grassroots support.

'Swerve'

Then, Sir Mix-a-Lot, an American emcee, entered the fray, rapping about how much he “loved big butts”. Not since his Grammy-winning ‘Baby Got Back’ in 1991 has Seattle birthed a topselling rap single in the US.

Recently, rapper Macklemore turned the spotlight on again with ‘Thrift Shop’ – rapping about how much he loved shopping for 99 cents and later bagging a Billboard Music Awards’ 2013 Rap Song of The Year.

Funny how both songs, complete with electro bleeps and lyrical blops, are equally satirical, far removed from hip-hop’s proverbial grittier spirit.

Shabazz Palaces
Shabazz Palaces

FREEDOM TO CREATE

Butler doesn’t condemn the northwest’s non-conventional approach towards hip-hop.

Because Seattle is so disconnected from the mainstream, the internet has allowed its homeboys to both parlay and purvey their own distinctive caricatures of the genre.

“In the symbolic world, we explore each other and from that, we explore ourselves,” said Butler, who tends to venture into more abstract and esoteric territories.

Shabazz Palaces’ critically acclaimed debut album, ‘Black Up’, bears testament not only to Butler and his partner Tendai Maraire’s cutting-edge hip-hop explorations, but also that of Seattle’s.

Inducted as one of the best albums of 2011 by independent music guides ‘Pitchfork’ and ‘Mojo’ as well as media critics from The Seattle Times and The Guardian, it is safe to say that the duo’s sound is hard to nail down, and probably unfitting to do so.

Is it fuzzy indie-rap, or meditative hip-hop, or voodoo left-field? Feel free to string together some genre-defining terms, and a handful of those might describe in part what Shabazz Palaces sound like.

Butler runs poetic circles around the themes of Palaces’ music. “The expression formed is a reflection of the depth of our creative minds. We have neither illusions of our destination nor how we want to be perceived. We just make music the best way we can.”

From Seattle’s emerging hip-hop scene, Shabazz Palaces has ostensibly taken the music further to the edge than what Sir Mix-A-Lot and Macklemore have done, by following and breaking none of its maxims.

Check them out and see for yourself.

Shabazz Palaces | Date: 21 June | Time: 10pm | Venue: Home Club, The Riverwalk, 20 Upper Circular Road #B1-01/06 | Tickets: $38, $48 (includes one drink) | Tel: 6538 2928