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Review: Shabazz Palaces, 'Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


Shabazz Palaces, <em>Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines.</em>
/ Courtesy of the artist
/
Shabazz Palaces, <em>Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines.</em>

Editors Note: Shabazz Palaces' Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines is the second of two albums that Ishmael Butler released the 06/14. We recommend listening to his first installment, Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star, before pressing play here.

The only thing better than one new Shabazz Palaces album that dares to deconstruct trap rap's echoing drones and clones is two such albums delivered at once.

Picking up where Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star ends, Palaceer Lazaro — better known as Ishmael Butler — flips the interstellar narrative of Quazarz the sentient traveler into an equally tragic sequel, Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines, also out July 14 on Sub Pop.

"God, what came first? The rapper or the trap?" he rhymes on "Gorgeous Sleeper Cell." Within the question lies the answer: it's all cyclical. But instead of draping himself in conscious rap's high-minded morality, Lazaro personifies the malaise, making his parody as political as it is poetic.

"Yeah, I'm from the United States of Amurderca myself. Now we post language," he narrates in the opening track. "We talk with guns. Guns keep us safe. We don't imagine past the image. Please. You know us. We killed love. We killed money. We killed Prince. We killed shame."

Absurdity is the only reality, as Frank Zappa once wrote. In this case, reality is populated by "self-made follownaires" and d-boy divas who wield selfie sticks like samurais. "Behold, look who it is, your favorite rapper / His jaws clenched in a Xanax glow, your favorite rapper," Lazaro details on "30 Clip Extension. "He's focused on the blurry blur, your favorite rapper / He's feeling numb dressed dapper dumb, your favorite rapper."

Shifting the paradigm isn't Palaceer Lazaro's point. Rather, it's the pervading pointlessness that Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines and accompanying album Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star put on blast. When the self-proclaimed aliens begin to rule the industry, it's natural for anyone with an original voice to feel a true sense of alienation. And therein is where the irony — and Shabazz Palaces' genius — lies.

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