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Halfway through the first track of Lese Majesty, the newest album from experimental hip hop group Shabazz Palaces, you start to wonder where the fuck you are. And for a group that’s made its name by pushing the boundaries of hip hop, that’s a strong statement—and a legitimate question. It’s safe to say that Shabazz Palaces is the Frank Zappa of the hip hop world.
Lese Majesty is unlike any hip hop album out there. It’s a concept album, but plenty of groups have made concept albums. It is a series of “astral suites” (as described by the group itself)—seven suites, to be exact, and each a little more out there than the last. Grasping around for a popular comparison, this album sounds like Outkast on a couple hits of acid and launched on a never-ending space cruise to the outer reaches of the solar system. But, somehow, Shabazz Palaces make it work. Lese Majesty is a refreshing blast of different.
The first suite, made up of “Dawn in Luxor,” “Forerunner Foray,” and “They Come in Gold,” eases into the weird. These tracks all have some continuity: an identifiable beat, some lyrical flow, and some semblance of structure. You’ll never hear these tracks in a club, and you definitely won’t hear them on the radio (unless it’s an exceptionally awesome radio station). But by Lese Majesty standards, these are bangers. “Dawn in Luxor” fades in with a drowsy beat, and the vocals drip in and out, conjuring that astral imagery. It segues right into “Forerunner Foray,” and you hardly notice the difference.
From the opening suite, though, shit gets dense. This is not an immediately accessible album. “#CAKE,” part of the suite titled “Pleasure Milieu,” is easily one of the more bizarre hip hop tracks you’d come across, but it’s not even the trippiest of the album—an honor that goes to “Colluding Oligarchs,” a meditation on price-fixing and, well, collusion in the industry.
It’d be tempting to give this album a single listen and chalk it up as “too weird” to ever return to. But once that stardusted veneer is cracked a little, there is some legit hip hop to be found here, such as “Motion Sickness,” the second track of the “High Climb to the Gallows” suite, which breaks down to reveal some strong rapping and unexpected visceral lyrics. Lese Majesty is a solid addition to the Shabazz Palaces discography, and it’s certainly going to be interesting to see where they go from here. »
– Charles Trowbridge