another interview from the land down under. when women glow and men plunder.
By Craig Mathieson
Ishmael Butler predicted his fame but he's never cared for cash.
ISHMAEL Butler is fond of saying that he always knew his music would take him where he was meant to go. It's a statement that speaks to the hip-hop veteran's quiet belief in his own ability as a musician, as well as being a nod to the mysticism that permeates his current outfit, Shabazz Palaces. A career, as Butler sees it, is the last thing on which a musician should focus.
''I never had a desperation about fame and fortune being my primary focus. But this outlook is obviously one that has come after a lot of experience, which equals into my own - if you will - brand of maturity,'' says the Seattle-based rapper and producer. ''You're trying to go from your instincts to the finished product without commercial predictions or expectations.''
Butler was previously best known as Butterfly, one-third of the 1990s New York hip-hop trio Digable Planets, whose 1992 single Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat) was a Grammy Award-winning hit single.
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The group broke up after two albums and Butler eventually returned to his home town of Seattle, where after various projects he started Shabazz Palaces with multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire.
After a pair of EPs, the pair announced themselves with a debut album that proved to be one of 2011's best releases.
Astral in outlook but earthy in its construction, Black Up moves through spectral soundscapes in which history and the everyday intermingle. Black awareness, sci-fi electronics and twisted funk are all identifiable elements but Shabazz Palaces use them to make music that is sinuous and unpredictable; in an era of tightly compressed radio mixes, it's hip-hop for headphones.
''That's always been the listening experience I've liked,'' says Butler, who now stands outside hip-hop's mainstream (Black Up was the first hip-hop record released by renowned Seattle rock label Sub Pop). He believes the current multi-platinum order, with their voracious consumerism, is a reflection of the US's growing obsessions with commercial profits, fostered in the years before the global financial crisis. Hip-hop, like the housing market, is a bubble waiting to burst.
''The whole thing with America falling financially and helping to sink the whole world is that the machines and systems behind traditional means of exploitation are trying to keep a hold of things in face of these revolutions cropping up,'' he says.
''The music for us is a direct reflection of where we stand - we respect the song form and the traditional way you do it but there's more to life than that.''
Shabazz Palaces can be viewed as a retort to established structures. Even a song, they appear to suggest, can experience a revolution.
''For sure,'' Butler says. ''The notion that inspiration comes from inside you, we don't believe that. We believe it comes from an unnameable place. And when it comes, we like to go in that direction.''