Essential New Music: Shabazz Palaces’ “Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star” And “Quazarz Vs. The Jealous Machines”

Just as he did back in the day with his Digable Planets guise, Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler may have his feet planted firmly on the street, but his eyes are nonetheless gazing at the stars. Seattle’s Shabazz—Butler along with multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire—is unlike any rap group currently recording or performing, borrowing liberally from familiar sources (P-Funk’s wobbly outerspace jamz, the free-form jazz of Ornette and Coltrane, ’70s soul served straight, no chaser) before twisting these sounds into unrecognizable pretzels that float midway between hip hop and Sun Ra. These two albums form something of a concept “whole,” purporting to tell the tale of Quazarz, an alien sent to “Amurderca to chronicle and explore as a musical emissary.” It’s not that far removed from the allegory of The Man Who Fell To Earth as it plays out in fits and starts over the course of the two LPs. Gangster Star features a much stronger single (the idyllic “Shine A Light”), while Jealous Machines wanders a bit further into the narrative forest even as Butler insists that “Everybody rappin’, everybody trappin’” on “Gorgeous Sleeper Cell,” a reminder that even space gangstas are subject to the human foibles of life here on Planet Earth. —Corey duBrowa