Shrouded in the shiny blueness of his nom de plume “Palaceer Lazaro” for the release of his first two EPs with Shabazz Palaces, rapper Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler (formerly of Digable Planets) has finally stepped out of the shadows and served up a space-age masterpiece with Black Up.
Lines like “I’m dressed like I was at the Ali-Frazier fight,” the incorporation of Malcolm X’s Muslim name, Shabazz, and references to spaceships stranded on Earth, are all planets in Butler’s universe. He relishes in the mutation of repeated words, as in the chorus of “A Treatise . . .,” where the word “there” is gradually sexualized in the space between “I want to be there” and “get all up in there.” Yet the desire expressed in the song never crosses the line into campy “Lollipop” or “Candy Shop” territory.
On “An Echo That Profess Infinitum,” Butler drops the beat after one verse and introduces a thumb-piano ostinato. Right when you think that’s the new flight path for the track he stirs in the ghostly vocal chorus from the main theme with an MPC stutter step. The song ends with thumping bass for three more measures, smoky tails of wailing wraiths curling in the stillness. Butler summarizes his production approach in an impression of a friend on “The Kings New Clothes . . .,” deadpanning, “That one beat’s all of that, huh?” Hell, yes, it is!
There has been much hype around Lil Wayne’s The Carter IV, but Black Up is the most innovative hip-hop album in recent memory. It deserves respect and repeat listens whether it lives in your headphones or rattles out of the trunk of your car. It is a document of an artist who uncompromisingly follows his muse.