Shabazz Palaces Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star

[Sub Pop; 2017]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: future afros, drop top
Others: Agharta

“For me, narratives emerge subsequent to the work,” sezzed emcee and producer Ishmael Butler. It’s an unlikely, or unreliable, admission: for years now — yes, “years” — I remember whipping my now-defunct Chevy Prizm through my old neighborhood, setting fire to the aux with “32 Leaves…” via my equally out-of-commission iPod Classic, Q.E.P.D.; Shabazz Palaces have felt like a project overwhelmingly concerned with exposing and dissecting a fragmented social self in only the most premeditated, deliberate, and precise of terms: expressive, radical, and oblique — dual-wielding ethnic memory and a sincere corporal poetics, embodying a certain hipster integrity and delivering a masterful, withholding narration. It’s top-heavy, but Born on a Gangster Star, the sequel to Palaces’s latest twin-release Quazarz project, avoids an all-too-easy and tempting foray into the grotesque or baroque. And yet, likewise, it exists as more than just a holding pattern. It instead sensually reveals elements of an esoteric anti-process whose product felt, until recently, almost handicapped by an uncomfortable restraint, by deceptive artistic intention.

I, Quazarz, Born On A Gangster Star, son only of Barbara Dream Caster and Reginald The Dark Hoper — he who rides on light — dreamer of the seventh dream and kissed eternal by Awet the Sun Scented — who far from home I found my same self differents in those constellies that be Dai at my weap-side immediate and all us Water Guild affiliates who revelries in the futures passed recordings and ceremonies flexing resplendent in the Paradise Sportif armor - raising these musics a joy/cry that way into these aquadescent diamondized ethers of the Migosphere here on Drake world. Welcome To Quazarz.

While its constituents are different in a few notable respects, the Quazarz project is composed of what are basically twins separated at birth: the records share the same lifeblood (immediate time-frame), dynamism (aesthetic alternatives), motive (liberation), and energy; they are contained within the same sonic argument. They are both concept albums confined to the same literary universe, revealing, in mercifully evasive detail, the story of a “sentient being” from just beyond St. Elsewhere, an “observer” sent to “Amurderca” to “chronicle and observe as a musical emissary.” And while not an epic, it’s even more impressive when you learn that Gangster Star is essentially an afterthought, almost relegated to the status of album-cycle stopgap: Per Butler, “I finished [Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines] and turned it in. After that, I went in the studio with my bro, Erik Blood. […] At first, I thought I was just going to get a few songs done and have some stuff in the can to put out here and there. We ended up finishing an album; it had a sound and a feel and a completion to it. It was a further extension of the album I had already finished.” Whereas past forays were animated by a heady, quasi-conservative character that challenged as much as it inspired — viz. a critical vernacular and a seemingly male subjectivity — the Quazarz duology is more intimate and immediate, exciting an appropriately contemporary spirit and embrace of technology. “I can’t even remember my last tweet,” Butler spits on opener “Since C.A.Y.A.” among other droll entries. While never glib, it is this self-consciousness and sincere sense of humor, among other things, that liquidates any high-minded second-guessing of Shabazz’s unique Afro-surrealist critique.

Fuck Gucci, Louis, Prada
Dolce & Gabbana
Every devil dumping garbage off the coast of Somalia
A toast to the pirates
Dip the holster, fire it
Erase all the tyrants
Like the Prophet Mohammed
May peace be upon you

Parallax
New tax
Send them all back
Alternative facts
Shootin’ Macs
Wrist water, blow stacks
Turnt to the max
Can’t turn back (now)

Gangster Star is, moreover, the first Shabazz release that seems to witness Butler employing and embracing a popularly-oriented, uninhibited voice. But it never appears in a pandering, trite manner. Future may be decidedly anti-Afrofuture, but, here, the song remains the same: elusive. “I’ve never been a good slave,” Butler chortles on penultimate track “Moon Whip Quäz.” In lieu of dropping science or names, however, what Butler mostly leaves for the participant to discover is the intensely-felt creative cosmovision that makes up and influences Quazarz’s partially-painted galaxy. It’s a concise cosmos — Gangster Star barely spans 35 minutes — and, yet, it is dense with recuperative textures, repertoires, and stock personae indebted to blaxploitation, Sun Ra, the Bomb Squad, Octavia Butler, et al., all endlessly expanding and shifting in form and content, little collisions sparking sonic supernovae. Less of an experiment in product-curation, Quazarz scans more as an effort in process-orientation, one that, whether consciously or not, divulges some of Shabazz Palaces’s obscure mysteries.

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