Sunday, December 19, 2010

On the Method of Obtaining the Foremost Shabazz Palaces Work entitled "Barksdale Corners" and a Preliminary Attempt at Its Exegesis: Part I of II.

Listen to Barksdale Corners here.

I'm a bit late posting this story: an exclusive new Shabazz Palaces track called "Barksdale Corners" on palaceer pusher beat circa Now has been released as one side of 7-inch that came free with issue 4 of I Want You magazine (see 7-inch artwork above, by davidope). I Want You is a quarterly art magazine. Each issue is full color, large format (9.5″ x 13.25″) and limited to 1,000 copies. Current issues are always FREE. Being free means you still pay postage of $5 but it's well worth it for this mindbending track and some art too some of which is fine. Needless to say the fact it's by SP, is limited to 100 copies, and is made from tastful mauve-coloured vinyl means future generations will be losing their inheritances when the odd copy surfaces on ebay. As for the song, it is just too much. How can I describe that which has never been heard or dreamed of? You can hear it for yourself. What I can say is that it most convincingly throws you into its own universe, which I've tried to explore below in my discussion of the lyrics. The b-side is by someone called Stellar Om Source (who also makes beautiful art) and is fittingly transcendental too. "Barksdale" refers to Avon Barksdale, a drug dealer character from the TV show The Wire (pictured below), and the song is just something else. An attempt at lyrical transcription has been made below, but I ask for your help dear readers, since as ever Lazaro's words don't reveal themselves without some effort on behalf of more than one listener.

Barksdale Corners - Lyrics

[First Verse]
Let's make it a place to go.
With a hundred new styles we'll shine.
Drop shadowy zebra print. [?]
The white horse with the wings to fly.
Make it a time to move.
Twist the knives for the place to go.
The black light will illuminate the sound,
and pushers on blocks will run.

System. I'm up in your system. System. (x2)
System. I’m up in the system. System. (x4)

[Second Verse]
Lights slice across the set
Gold dice tumble towards the riches off my bets
Crashing institutions, shooting eastward in a jet
A revolution down to the glitches in our sets
Threats try to pose
The flash froze em cold
Gold never fold
Royal colours gettin rogue [rolled?]
Flights book, rice cooks, ice looks dazzling
Seats on the lay back, time on javelins

I rock the brunos in a varied tone
Wavy like a herring bone
My shades boast the ice glaze
My Tacomas is cherry chrome
I stays the ???
The styles in a plasma charisma
That's what's selling.
We snuck the choppers hundred-fifty clicks on camels
Holy Land mercenaries' blood oaths we bound to.
The fixer's villa, it overlooks the channel,
He promised he could touch the judge before he dropped his gavel.
Gun point straight while Sway test the powder
1.8, beast'd estimate the value.
Red rooms, black lights, cross indigo carpets
We ghettoize the market,
fraternize in utter sharpness
We watch you white lights making sparkles in the furnace
It's midnight down here though so you get swallowed up in darkness

Automatic push-button remote control,
Synthetic genetics commands your soul.


The first verse starts with a call to “make it a place to go.” What does “it” refer to? Perhaps it’s the corners that an Avon Barksdale fights with other drug dealers over. How many neighbourhoods around the world are infested with drug crime? Though the track at first listen appears to reference a glamorous and dangerous culture of international organized crime, that’s just part of the genius of it. To many (poor) reviewers, Cherrywine was just an extended to ode to ‘bitches, gangstas, and cocaine’! But for those willing to listen, there’s also a powerful message: let’s get better. Let’s make these corners a place to go, instead of somewhere to buy crack. “A hundred new styles” implying the creativity that’s needed in order for “us (the African American community?) to shine”. But how? “The white horse with the wings to fly” is a clue. Such a beast is also featured on the artwork in the inlay card of Eagles Soar, Oil Flows. It is none other than Buraq, (see fanciful 17th-century Mughal representation below) the winged horse that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) mounted before the Night Journey (Al-Israa wal-Mi’raaj) and ascended the seven heavens until the Lote Tree of the furthest boundary, into the direct presence of Allah. This connection with Islam brings to mind the stories one reads periodically about African American communities embracing Islam and forthwith ridding their communities of crack houses, brothels, and drug dealers in instances of vigilante community-level justice. A famous example was the cleaning up of part of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn under the leadership of Imam Siraj Wahhaj (photo below), may his life be extended.

“Make it a time to move” continues the sense of urgency Lazaro understands is necessary to bring about such a change. I can’t make much of “twist the knives for the place to go” other than the possibility that things will necessarily get worse before they get better. But hopefully “the black light will illuminate the sound, and pushers on blocks will run.” Now they run from blue cop lights only to return before long, but only when black light illuminates the scene, perhaps meaning change from within, will things be transformed for good.

The chorus is my favourite thing: I’ve never heard that kind of vocal sound effect. The different voices he uses each time allude to the different meanings of system. First it’s “your system” and as you listen with earphones plugged, bass drum thumping, synth lines pursuing their slow, demented wobble, there’s no doubt he is in your system. But then it’s “the system”, bringing to mind the way in which this music was released. No mention of who it was, no publicity whatsoever, nothing. They just put it out there and sat back as it infiltrated the system. This gloating tone is contrasted yet again with a third possible way in which to take the words, as the voice becomes childlike: an existential rumination on being. Oddly enough, I exist in this reality. I’m up in the system.

To be continued...

Q: Could the white horse not refer to Pegasus?
A: I have not discounted that idea. Buraq is more likely I think because of the other Islamic symbols in the EPs' artwork, however Pegasus also ascended to heaven at some point, so the idea of elevation is still there. Incidentally, from the 'renaissance' onwards, Pegasus came to symbolise poetry.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

For the Love of Music

Next Shabazz Palaces live show is on December 21st at Neumos:

The article below is from The Stranger and gives a great insight into this project run by SP's other half, Tendai Maraire, who for the Shabazz fanbase outside Seattle, remains shrouded in mystery. What he's up to is quite inspiring. Look out for the compilation CD coming soon and let's hope SP's song is an original.

Tendai Maraire and For the Love of Music

by Trent Moorman

Shabazz Palaces, Macklemore, Mad Rad, Mash Hall, THEE Satisfaction, Champagne Champagne, Cloud Nice, Draze, Meez, Run-a-Way Slaves, Stay Hi Brothers, Young Fast

at Neumos
Tues Dec 21 at 8 pm.

Inside the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club on Martin Luther King Junior Way South, balls fly, packs of kids sprint around, and laughter echoes off the walls of the gymnasium. Across from the basketball courts are doors to a music studio. Huddled over a soundboard there, constructing a beat, are three 15-year-olds and Tendai Maraire of Shabazz Palaces. It's a fat city beat with teeth, and the foursome sways to it. Maraire is the music and arts director here. Over the past year, he's revamped the music program, created a curriculum, and is in the process of turning the studio into a legitimate place to record. All phases are taught, including video. All kids have to do is sign up. In threes, they can come into the studio and work with Sub Pop recording artist Maraire, who grew up on Orcas Street about a mile away.

The studio and the program need money to make them fly. So to raise funds and awareness, Tendai has put together a benefit CD and show called For the Love of Music. Contributors include Shabazz Palaces, Sir Mix-A-Lot, THEESatisfaction, Champagne Champagne, Mad Rad, Macklemore, Fresh Espresso, Mash Hall, and more. Recording is taking place at the Boys & Girls Club, so the kids can see the process firsthand and be a part of it. And that's just how Maraire wants it.

What's your goal with this project?

I want to teach the kids to be self-sufficient. You can't make it in the music industry today if you're not self-sufficient. The notion that someone is going to walk in the room and give you a $2 million deal because you rap is so far out the door. I think kids need to comprehend that. One of the kids I'm working with, Jamal, got to watch (and film) Buffalo Madonna when he came in here to record for this CD, and it was huge for him. Jamal's mother told me in a phone conversation that Jamal had learned a lot seeing the way one of them was so serious. The way Buffalo walked into the studio, took his shirt off, got into a zone, and then nailed his stuff. I told her, that's exactly why I wanted Jamal to see people like that. That's why I want these kids to see real sessions and be around professionals. That's what I'm trying to do with the program. 'Cause when you see that, you realize, these guys aren't joking. This is serious business.

What's your method of teaching?

I think hands-on is best. That way they have a real understanding. I want them to learn the basics, too, from the ground up. So they can take this knowledge and go into any studio and work. I run the program like a regular studio session. It just wouldn't be real if it were any other way.

How did you get involved with the Boys & Girls Club?

I've known program director Rick Dupree for years; he knows me from my family. He knows I'm in music, so he asked me to come in and check out the studio. He wanted me to come in and tell him if they had the right equipment. I came in and liked what I saw. My involvement was discussed, and I said, "Okay, but I don't do something unless it's full bore." I said I'd get involved, but it had to be done right. I told them what my stipulations would be, what type of freedom I would need, and how long it would take. It was obvious they were making an effort to have a serious studio. For me, because they were making that effort, it was worth it—to get it to the next level.

I've always seen the Boys & Girls Clubs as basketball spots, places that generate great basketball players. I see this as an opportunity to build a music program with that same mentality. So in 10 or 15 years, people will know artists who came out of here. I want this to be more than just a state-of-the-art music facility; I want to produce real talent out of here. I want it to inspire kids to move on. I'd like to see it get to the point where it sustains itself. I want to start bringing in different producers to teach so the kids can see different styles, like Vitamin D, Erik Blood, and Jake One. I want to bring Thaddeus Turner in to teach guitar.

What is the status of the studio now?

I've taken it from a GarageBand studio to a ProTools studio. And I'm now implementing Ableton and other things. We need better mics, better drum mics. I'd like to be able to have a real drum set in here, and be able to record it correctly. Same thing with guitar. Microphones are one of the things that this benefit is working toward. I'd like to be able to record choirs. I'd really like to get adequate equipment so that when the kids walk out of here, they're industry-ready. I want them to be able to go into Bad Animals and be able to know what's up. I want them to have working knowledge. I'm not helping them if I'm not giving them that.

There's a basketball court right next to the studio. And ping-pong and foosball. Are you worried about kids running and jumping around on the basketball court and then coming in here and breaking things?

This is the urban community. Where I grew up, the studio was in the basement of your house, with your mom upstairs and commotion going on. I did a compilation a few years ago in the projects with Vitamin D, Boom Bap, and Jason Black. Several people came in and recorded in my bathroom, and all throughout the house was yelling and screaming and life. I see this as like that.

That's cool that they get to watch actual sessions with you.

I think so. I try to keep it to three kids a class. One will engineer, one will control the board, and one will do their song. Then they rotate. So everyone's learning everything at the same time. Most kids just want to rap, but I'll set it up so that in order for them to get their turn on the mic, they'll have to engineer the other person's session first. And then that kid will do the same for them. It gives them incentive to do it right and pay attention. I teach them little by little.

Where did you learn?

My family. My first studio session was when I was 12 years old and I recorded a Zimbabwean album with traditional marimbas. I was assisting someone. Then I just started going into studios. There was Let's Do It Productions. The Ezelle family had a studio and were very instrumental in the recording community. We all went there and recorded. He would let us come in at midnight and be the last session of the day. I'd put the key under the mat when we were finished.

This area has gone through so much change.

This was the projects before. It's good change. I want to show the kids that this studio is worth it. Because it's not the norm. It's something special and different going on here with this Boys & Girls Club studio. Some people have gone their whole lives and not gotten to record in a place as nice as this.

You got Sir Mix-A-Lot on the CD!

Yes. He's a Boys & Girls Club guy. Boys & Girls Club gave him a lot of support back in the day. I remember sneaking into Mix-A-Lot parties when I was 8 to 10 years old.

This is a good thing you've got going here.

It feels good to be able to make a difference in someone's life. Some kids come in thinking they're a Blood, from the Central to the South End, with beef. They want to rap some things that are pretty bad ideas. I can say to them that I think it's a bad idea and they will respect it. One kid has it tough, he was homeless, didn't know where he was going to get his next meal, and he loves to rap. I've heard he's kind of dangerous and what not. But when he comes in here, he's straight and he listens. We were trying to put him in a position where he can better his life. Unfortunately, at this point, it's not a happy ending. We didn't have the resources to keep helping him. We had him checked into a shelter, but after a while his time there ran out. So we've lost him, for now. I have about six of his songs on the computer here, and they're good, and I want to keep working with him, and keep helping him, but we need some resources. He's still out there. Hopefully, we can raise these funds and I can get him back in here.

Where do you see this program in a couple years.

I'd like to get it to the point where there's a waiting list. It's packed. And kids are funneling in here from all over, and it gets so out of hand, with so much good stuff happening, that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America has to say, "Okay, we need to put one of these in Mercer Island, one in the Central District, there need to be more of these programs. What do we need to do to make that happen?" I want to get it to the point where they have to open up other music programs like this. And then it will feed on itself, kids who were part of the program will be teaching it. It will take some time. I've seen several music programs come and go in the black community. So I'm willing to put the time in and see it through, because I believe it's a good thing. This community, and the people and the music that comes out of it, are worth it. There's a process to growing a tree before it can bear fruit.

The For the Love of Music release show is Tues Dec 21 at Neumos. With Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction, Champagne Champagne, Mash Hall, Macklemore, Mad Rad, and more.

0.49 seconds

P.E.A.C.E. (Freestyle Fellowship) & Divine Styler (clip from the movie Freestyle)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Radio Documentary

KEXP 90.3 FM (Seattle, WA) had a series entitled "KEXP Documentaries: Hip Hip - The New Seattle Sound" and one of the episodes addressed Shabazz and includes an interview.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Saturday Night

The next show will be on Saturday in Seattle in aid of the Andy Kotowicz Foundation. Andy worked for Sub Pop Records (SP's label) and died recently in a car accident, so this is a benefit concert with all proceeds going to the Foundation to care for his family.

Saturday, December 4th:
A Concert for The Andy Kotowicz Family Foundation with Shabazz Palaces, Vetiver, Fruit Bats, Wolf Eyes, Pissed Jeans, Mudhoney, A Frames/AFCGT, and Michael Yonkers
-at Seattle's Showbox at the Market. $20


Spectre f/ Laila, "Black Widow", Death Before Dying (Wordsound 2010)


A Web Trawl unearthing a variety of tributes to Shabazz Palaces from the digital realm.

The New Confusion introduces SP to its readers.

Gorilla vs Bear puts Lazaro's CDs at number 3 in its Top 20 of 2010 - they must really like it (since it was released in 2009)

Cool Russian blog Guerilla presents a lengthy feature on SP in historical context for the cyrilically fluent. Google translate however delivers poetical truths like "Shabazz is a short course in the ghetto etiquette and the program will survive in the slums, delivered in a dark box heartbreaking graymovyh riddimov and severe klepsov from the mid-80's."