Patrick O'Brien Smith


shabazz palaces channel lil tracy on “fast learner”

March 3, 2020
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A butterfly is known for its metamorphosis. And much like the insect that Ishmael Reginald Butler took his stage name from as a member of Digable Planets, his musical career has been defined by reinvention. He’s been Butterfly, Cherrywine, and Palaceer Lazaro of Shabazz Palaces, alongside multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire. He was one-half of the duo Knife Knights with producer Erik Blood. And now he is Shabazz Palaces all by himself.

So it’s fitting that on “Fast Learner,” the typically abstract new single from Shabazz Palaces, we get Ish featuring Ish. His autotuned alter ego, Purple Tape Nate, shares mic time with the Palaceer to give us a spaceship-window view of hip-hop’s effects on the world: “Jewelry around the neck of a thug/ juugs made/ eyes covered in shades/ designed and braids/ the gilded age/ the redirected rage/ prowling across the stage/ it’s a new age/ and it all happens when niggas rap/ Barbara’s son little Reggie rap.”

Ish is self-referential in more ways than one: he is Barbara’s son and his doppelganger Purple Tape Nate raps in the style of Ish’s son Jazz, the young emo-rap icon who records under the moniker Lil Tracy. Nate is a manifestation of Ish’s id and libido: “I’m Purple Tape Nate/ seal a corny nigga’s fate/ I pull up wearing diamonds/ at the pearly gates/ told my niggas/ I’m sorry that I’m late.” And “Big body girl turned her to a gymnast/ did her so good she called me a feminist.” Like son, like father.

Shabazz Palaces’ new album, The Don of Diamond Dreams, drops on April 17th on Sub Pop and available for pre-order here.