In Studio: Shabazz Palaces

April 20, 2017

Based in Seattle, the American hip hop duo known as Shabazz Palaces have been making their own unique brand of hip hop since 2009. Comprised of Ishmael Butler a.k.a. Palaceer Lazaro and Tendai "Baba" Maraire, they are signed to the legendary Sub Pop Records with a sound that is innovative and a far cry from commercial hip hop. In Cape Town for the Jazz Fest, the two stopped by Red Bull Studios to collaborate with some local artists and get to know the city better. We spoke to them to find out more about Shabazz Palaces, their sound and their experience in South Africa.

How did you get together and decide to form the group?
Tendai Maraire: We got together, I’d ran into him at a club, a reggae club in Seattle. I walked over and introduced myself and said let’s get on some music. He said that he doesn’t do music anymore. Then my wife’s friend was friends with his girl at the time and she found out and was like ‘What?! Are you kidding me?’ and she was like ‘No, no. I’m gonna hook up some stuff, we’re gonna go out together, we’re gonna have drinks. He does music.’ I was like ‘I know he does!’. So we got together, had drinks and talked and then we ended up being neighbours. We we’re talking about it and being cool and sports and football and then one day he hit me about playing the mbira on one of the beats. I was like ah man I don’t just play mbira on everything. After a couple of times he just hit me one day and I was like okay if it fits we do it. After that we just kept pushing it. We just became friends first. For myself, I had already been through alot with family and just wanted to transition out of that and really just go do what I felt and see what happened.

You’re signed to Sub Pop and your sound doesn’t conform to commercial hip hop. Has Seattle had influence on your experimental sound or where does it come from?
Ishmael Butler: I think it just comes from doing music so long. You start out trying to do the traditional stuff. Learning song structures, verse/chorus and all that. Then after you do that for a certain amount of time you thirst for other ways of looking at music. You get exposed to more music and different approaches. So I just think over time it got to be like I didn’t wanna stay doing the same thing. So we matured into, it’s not really experimental, but coming up with your own formula. It’s not like we sit around and say we have to put out something different. We’ve gotta experiment. It’s all experimental. If you’re just doing the same thing over and over then I don’t know. Music seems like an experimental realm really.

You’ve worked with South African artists before, remixing Spoek Mathambo. How did that come about?
IB: He was signed to Sub Pop at the time. So when the song came out, I think he came out before us, he had a song out ‘Put Some Red on It’ so we just did the remix. We still see him when we can. See him in Europe alot. Talk to him. I talked to him before I came down here. He’s a cool dude.

Jazz Fest was your first performance in South Africa. What was the experience like?
TM: Different. I mean any time you have the opportunity to come to Africa and perform, especially if you’ve never done it, it’s a spiritual and fulfilling experience. I was just happy to see everyone in Africa. Everything is full circle for me.
IB: And we got to perform at night! Most of the festivals way play we get the daytime which sucks!
TM: We’re the kick-off team man.

You’re at Red Bull Studios collaborating with a few local artists. What are you hoping to get out of the session?
IB: When you go to another place you wanna see as much as you can. Not really the tourist sites. Those too, but you wanna see some of that city, the people, the underground and the margins so you can get a real taste of what’s going on. So when they told us about this we said yeah we’ll check it out. We knew the studio would be cool, meet the people and jam out.

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