REVIEW: Shabazz Palaces – “When Cats Claw”
by Chad Jewett
An electrifying amalgamation of the post-punk crunch of mid-2000s Saul Williams and the steady boom-bap pulse of New York rap circa 1993, “When Cats Claw” finds Seattle hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces continuing to do what they do best: meld adventurous sounds and structures to beats that thump with steely precision. Ishmael Butler’s voice is cloaked in intergalactic reverb, a brilliant echoing contrast to the gnarled, grumbling synth bass that snarls underneath – equal parts spacey and gritty. Perhaps more than ever before, Shabazz Palaces seem laser-focused on creating a world of sound completely independent from the verse-hook structure at work in 90% of hip-hop. “When Cats Claw” is more decentralized; the sounds cooked up by Tendai Maraire get equal billing. Butler’s refrain of “This ain’t cool / That ain’t cool” is only slightly less out-there than the “Eating cake” refrain from 2014’s sublime “#CAKE”, an early sign that the duo’s two (!) forthcoming albums, Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines, promise to feature more of the sonic inventiveness that made Lese Majesty such a revelation.