Album: Black Up

Artist: Shabazz Palaces

Year: 2011


I’m not an aficionado of hip hop or rap, but from time to time a hip hop album will grab me by the gut and not let go.  This was the case with my first listen to the new release from Shabazz Palaces, Black Up.  From the thumping beats of “Free Press and Curl” to trippy bass and effects of “Swerve the Reeping of All that is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding),” the track titles aren’t the only weird and original items to be found on this album.

Black Up finds Shabazz Palace in comfortable place.  The beats are heavy, but the tone is light, almost airy and the rhymes feel natural and breezy, rather than forced and heavy-handed.  Although the booming bass lines never let up, this isn’t exactly an album that will make you want to dance.  It’s too cerebral to be a club set.  These are tracks that make you think and make you feel something.  The tone is light, but the content is heady and Shabazz Palces isn’t just rapping about thug life, but about the deeper issues of race, identity and history.

After the third of fourth listen, Black Up feels like a classic.  It’s the kind of album you want to come back to and listen with headphones.  In other words, Shabazz Palaces isn’t just making background music.  This is music that invites to you actually listen, an experience rather than just a collection of songs.