Shabazz Palaces: The Harley, Sheffield

The Harley once again showed it is head and shoulders above Sheffield’s other similar sized venues with the inspired booking of what some publications are calling ‘the future of hip-hop’; Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces.  While the likes of Odd Future have brought adolescent, in-your-face hip-hop back into the mainstream, emcee Ishmael Butler and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire are the perfect antidote as shown on last year’s critically acclaimed Black Up in 2011; intelligent, compelling, and fresh.

SP saunter onto the stage, maracas in hand, shaking to the beat of some Middle-eastern instrumental before leisurely mutating into the bass-heavyYoulogy featuring some rather bizarre but entertaining choreography.  From here on in, we’re in for an almighty rollercoaster ride; the impressive 75 minute set is full of peaks and troughs, but always manages to captivate and allure the crowd through differing forms.  There are no hip-hop clichés demonstrated here; SP shape shift between cutting edge and retro, digital and analogue, sequenced and authentic beats, and influences from just about anything committed to tape.  Where hip-hop is typically bulldozing and demands immediate attention, the duo work hard to pull you in to their world of  unique breezy pychedelia and reward you for such patience.

Although the duo deal in songs, each track merges into the next like some kind of improvised DJ set and never lets up; Butler supplies the rhymes (through multiple effects) and samples while Maraire rips up the rulebook on the ‘hype man’, playing percussion mbira and providing some vocal melody to proceedings.  Songs melt into one another and barely gives the audience time to let each moment sink in; a pulsating sub bass one minute is replaced by minimal conga beats the next.  The beauty of the duo is that everything is sequenced live; even sampled beats are put together like a jigsaw; often pleasantly disorientating and hypnotic, with the jazz swing of Madlib or Flying Lotus.  Standout moments are cleverly dotted at checkpoints throughout the set; just as it seems SP are spacing out a little too much, they break into the stop-start beats and chorus hooks of Bop Hard.  Later in the set, after a processed beat vs. conga jam, SP reel everyone back in with the bewildering and effect-heavy An Echo From The Hosts That Profess In Infinitum, complete with a mbira solo from Mariaire, decorated in Butler’s creative beats.

It’s clear as Butler and Maraire leave the stage that the crowd have witnessed something special breaking tonight. If Shabazz Palaces are indeed the future of hip-hop, they certainly did nothing to dissuade the Harley crowd tonight.