interview: shabazz palaces – instinctual voyage to infinity through rhythm

July 2, 2015

Can you imagine what the legacies of Sun Ra, Octavia E. Butler, Fela Kuti, and Miles Davis would create when fused together? The result is a paradigm rooted in genius, exalting Afro- culture through verse and tune. Seattle based Hip-Hop duo, Shabazz Palaces has successfully executed just that while marrying their personal ideologies, imaginations, and experiences, to create a lane of their own.

By Tip Jordan, AFROPUNK Contributor 


I was introduced to Shabazz Palaces through AFROPUNK, watching Shabazz’s video, “Foreunner Foray”. The video seemed mysterious with all of its space way rhetoric, and iridescent animation. Nonetheless, I found myself in awe of its beauty and the reverberation of a calm voice, encouraging me to refute time alongside them. Although tempting, I was confused, and fear of the unknown warred with my curiosity. I remained inquisitive and subsequently thoughts of wonder, inspiration, and empowerment seeped through my conscious as I studied their catalogue, “Black Up” and “Lese Majesty”. But still, as much of an admirer I became, there was always one question that their music proposed in which I needed answered. Who is Shabazz Palaces?


Above the surface, Shabazz Palaces consists of Ishamel “Palaceer Lazaro” Butler, and Tendai “BaBa” Maraire but I needed to know more, beyond the music and videos. I reached out to Ishmael for an interview and with universe working in my favor, he replied. He was kind enough to set aside time during Shabazz’s hectic tour schedule and talk about their artistry and inspirations.



When did the revelation of identity occur within your life, because it’s awakening shows through your musical content and lyrics?


ISHMAEL:  I think that equating it to that moment when you go from sleep to waking up is a little bit too fast because I feel like it happens all the time… that’s if you can open yourself up to observing life like that. When I see other groups perform, other musicians play, watch athletics, watch political events, I always see things that human beings are doing that is amazing and somewhat super-human, and unbelievable and inspirational…. especially when I look at my own people, my own culture. I can look back and I can look at what’s going on now and find things that are really amazing.


Do you ever get tempted to use the same reasoning of the masses in order to help elevate their minds to a higher consciousness?


ISHMAEL: I just do what comes naturally to me. I don’t think of a song before I do it as being either smart or intelligent. I’m not looking at it as, “What’s this song going to be?” The song is what it is.


Besides lyrical content, you guys are well known for your affinity with sound, creating a beautiful fusion of consonance and dissonance. What were the experiences that help you arrive to your current taste in music?


ISHMAEL: My childhood experiences, the music that my parents, their friends, our family listened to, and Jazz.


Ishmael’s candidness about music, and his easy going personality encouraged me to ask about one of my favorite songs off of Lese Majesty entitled, “Dawn in Luxor”. Naturally, I had my own notion as to what the song was about, but Ishmael made it clear to me that I was neither right nor wrong.


What was the inspiration behind the song, “Dawn in Luxor”?


ISHMAEL: It’s made for people to interpret. It’s not for it to have some correct meaning. It’s more of an impression and then the person that listens to it is going to figure out what they think of it, and what those certain words aligned mean to them.


I guess my interpretation of the song’s lyrics were correct after all! Then again, there’s no way for anyone to decipher art with precision. We all have feelings and ideas associated with specific words, and with sound as its backdrop, a plethora of thoughts freely surfaces.


Through Shabazz’s soundscape I was well aware of the esoteric aura that hovered around their catalogue but to speak with the duo’s front man, I quickly learned that instinct is the driving force behind all of their endeavors.


How involved are you when it comes to creating Shabazz’s music videos?


ISHMAEL: All the people that directed the videos are friends. We’ve worked together on different stuff. They’re Directors and they see through a camera and they have that creative talent so we let them do their thing. They’re interpreting our text, which is music, and creating their rendition of a song, painting it with visuals. I look forward to seeing what they do. I don’t try to get too involved. If they ask me my opinion, which they respect, I’ll give it. It’s only to add color to whatever their into. I trust them explicitly with what they’re doing.


As a conduit for a greater source, what do you feel is your responsibility while in the process of creating music?


ISHMAEL: Just honesty. My experiences, they’ve been given to me. They’re mine. I have a right to stand behind them and be proud of them and find out as much as I can about them.


Do you ever feel that language limits your interaction with people and vice-versa?


ISHMAEL: Only if the person and I don’t speak the same language but I’ve also seen situations in which music and the atmosphere that the music is being presented in can transcend that boundary of language and go into a different language that everyone can speak.


In what ways has Shabazz Palaces help you grow as an individual?


ISHMAEL: The music gives me an opportunity to travel a lot, which is something that I am innately predisposed to like to do. It’s enabled me to see a lot of things and be around a lot of cultures and different things that have helped to keep me excited and motivated and looking forward to moving.


What are some of the things you indulge in, in order to help your creativity flourish?


ISHMAEL: Any kind of transcendent state of ecstasy.


With art acting as a documentation of an artist’s state of mind, where are you now mentally and creatively?


ISHMAEL: Mentally, seeking. Creatively, I’m trying to have more discipline to learn specific things like different scales, practice playing piano, and practice playing guitar so that when it comes time to exercising my instinct, there’s a lot of freedom because I have the practice so that when I can free my mind, I can actually physically do the things that come to mind.


Trying to pinpoint exactly what something or someone is never does the parties involved any justice, especially when trying to contain two united artists through labels. Some things are best when just accepted. There are no words that can capture Shabazz Palaces as a whole. It is truly a feeling! You either consent to joining their expedition or, are inevitably seduced. Either way, their music is resonant to any listener or passerby. They remain undefined and free flowing, allowing their sensibilities to guide them through the labyrinth of life and sanctum of melody. Just as the earth continues to spin on its axis, so will Shabazz Palaces’ proclivity for music be perfected and felt.

Shabazz Palaces is currently on tour & will be in a city near you! Visit for upcoming news & updates.

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