I was driving back home from the opening night of the UMS in the early hours of Friday morning, happy to have seen so many of my Denver friends and heard the music from so many talented bands spilling into the street along Broadway. As I headed east, there was no way of knowing what was unfolding at that very moment just a few miles down the road–a horrific, unfathomable scene which has brought devastation, confusion, and anger into the hearts of so many here in our community.
Upon learning of those senseless events on Friday morning, there was simply no way to focus on something as seemingly insignificant as previewing another one of the festival’s performers; in enthusiasm’s old domain there was only numbness, shock, a shallow feeling in our chest, a heaviness in our hearts.
Words can’t express how deep the sympathy runs for those whose lives have been changed or cut short. The victims and survivors, as well as their family and friends, will be on our minds for a long time to come. If you are in the Aurora/Denver area and would like to provide assistance or comfort to those affected, please visit this collection of resources to find out how to help. If you are out of the area and would still like to contribute materially to the victims and their families you may do so here.
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This past year has been a sweet one for Palaceer Lazaro. The man better known as Ishmael Butler (aka Butterfly of influential New York City hip-hop trio Digable Planets) is now the force behind Shabazz Palaces, whose 2011 debut LP, Black Up, snagged Album of the Year recognition from a slew of outlets including Cokemachineglow, Prefix, and Gorilla vs. Bear. All of the attention was entirely deserved–Black Up is a set of songs which effortlessly moves the chains for contemporary hip-hop. Woozy electronics and crunchy beats swaddle Lazaro’s lyrics, which are delivered with melody and tongue-twisting deftness.
“Swerve… the reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding” is the tenth and final cut on the album, and after a few minutes of having himself front and center, Lazaro tacks on a symbolic coda. He cedes the microphone to Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White, who comprise Shabazz Palaces’ new Sub Pop labelmates THEEsatisfaction. Despite Shabazz Palaces’ obvious relevance–it could be argued that Lazaro/Butterfly has never done anything as important as his new work–it feels like a passing of the torch to a new act whose sensibilities are so in line with Digable Planets’ early ’90s recordings. Then, once the song proper has come to a close, there is an aural shout out to Digable’s “Escapism”… which itself is partially an homage to the proto-hip-hop artists in The Last Poets.
So there you have it, all in one song: intertextuality, a stellar guest spot, a creative original song, nimble lyricism, and a grinding beat you can bob your head to. What more can you ask for in exchange for five minutes of your time?
Shabazz Palaces performs right after Snake Rattle Rattle Snake tonight, Saturday, July 21st, at 9:00 pm on the Main Stage at Goodwill as part of this year’s Underground Music Showcase.
Click here to listen to the Black Up on Spotify.