Album Reviews

Album Review: Shabazz Palaces - The Don of Diamond Dreams (Sub Pop)

Sam Smith

Radio 13’s Sam Smith has checked out Shabazz Palaces, The Don of Diamond Dreams, ahead of today's release.

Many say rap is a young person’s game. The shelf-life for most rappers is shorter than say for a rocker, but that doesn’t mean good music can still be made as one matures in age. This is the case with Shabazz Palaces, the project of former Digable Planets member Ishmael Butler who has a new album out, The Don of Diamond Dreams.

Digable Planets rose to fame in the 90 West Coast hip hop scene drawing critical acclaim with their brand of jazz rap. Now, years later, Butler has been working with multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire under the name Shabazz Palaces, with The Don of Diamond Dreams their fifth album together.

Drawing on the legacy of his previous band’s unique take on jazz rap, on this album Butler and indeed Tendai look to the likes of George Clinton and Sun Ra for inspiration, with elements of Afro-futurism, space jazz, and dub experimentalism littered across the ten tracks.

Ad Ventures is a quirky space jazz track which sees Butler singing in a deadpan voice over Tendai’s instrumental flourishes, while the space theme continues strongly on Fast Learner which features vocoder alien-esque vocals hovering over echoey horns.

On Wet, Butler channels Andre-3000 in what is an Outkast-sounding circa ATLiens type track, while Chocolate Souffle is an absolute album highlight whose instrumentation would not sound out of place on George Clinton’s Computer Games.

Bad Bitch Walking is a downtempo funk sludge affair featuring some excellent guest vocals from Stas THEE Boss, and album closer Reg Walks By The Looking Glass pulls all this record’s stylistic wandering into one seven-minute experiment in what is a befitting way to end proceedings.

It is very clear throughout this album who Shabazz Palaces are channelling and where their influences lie. This does lead to some interesting moments musically and the experimentation on display with song structure and sound is worth it for the most part.

There are moments where tracks don’t go anywhere, and repetition does become a factor, especially in the back end of the record, however, this is not a significant blight on the overall package. Ten years into this collaboration, Shabazz Palaces know what they are about and there is no doubt this is a solid enough entry into their expanding discography. 

Shabazz Palaces The Don of Diamond Dreams is available today April 17th, 2020 worldwide on Sub Pop

Written By: Sam Smith When he is not writing for Radio 13 Sam works in media and journalism at 95bFM radio and the University of Auckland. He also has is own personal music blog Nowhere Bros.