Shabazz Palaces
Exotic Birds of Prey


2.4
average

Review

by DadKungFu STAFF
April 3rd, 2024 | 13 replies


Release Date: 03/29/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A refinement of a decline

Didn’t I see Shabazz Palaces live sometime soon after Black Up? I knew Ishmael Butler’s work tangentially through the hyper-chill jazz-rap of Digable Planets and had wholly dived into the hype of his most recent project, a project that not only delivered something that felt entirely new and vital, but which held some promise of being the new face of hip-hop. Wasn’t that album an absolute powerhouse, one of those things that reaches so close to being a game-changer, a work that, given another set of circumstances, might have changed the whole face of a scene? And at this show that I’d been anticipating for weeks, didn’t I sit through one of the most atrocious live mixes I’ve ever heard while the man himself, Ishmael Butler, stood on stage plying his trade with sufficient energy but precious little voice, barely audible over a bass that overwhelmed nearly everything else in that mix while my brother kept falling asleep in the lounge area out of sheer boredom until security had to ask me what he was on and tell my that if he couldn’t get it together he’d have to leave? Was the worst live show of my life merely a portent of things to come? Hasn’t every subsequent release lived exactly up to the promise of that live experience? Is this new release no different? Is this noodling, bizarrely sparse, incoherent mess all Butler is capable of at this point?

Alright, let me revisit Black Up, let me check if my animus isn’t the product of a frustrating job and a rough wakeup this morning. And two tracks in and yes this is still so forward-thinking, so cool in its charisma, so damn on fire with creative energy that I’m asking once again, what the hell happened? Is Butler just content to throw together whatever experiments have most recently caught his fancy? Granted, Exotic Birds of Prey feels more coherent, more structured than anything he’s done in years, but there’s just such a feeling of apathy and aimlessness when compared to the scope and vitality of that full-length debut that I’m left feeling like we’re listening to an entirely different artist, one whose spaciness isn’t the product of some cosmic sense of exploration, but just one too many nights spent misusing chemical substances.

There’s glimmers of the old brilliance here and there of course. Exotic BOP may be a pale, miserable ghost of the glory days, but there’s life to be found in Angela, its funk line feeling like it's going to be the root of something that’s about to flourish, but whoops, there it goes into its weird low-effort basement style as Stas THEE Boss delivers a verse that’s passable enough, but which doesn’t do anything to dig the rest of the track from out of its own mire. The brief, expendable Well Known Nobody does nothing for the rest of the album, and Myths of the Occult is straight-up the best thing Shabazz has done in years, a track that grasps immediately, that bites and doesn’t let go until the end of its runtime. Would that the rest of the album had any of that staying power. Interesting here and there, on fire on precisely one occasion. So what’s Exotic Birds of Prey in the context of Shabazz Palaces’ Uncle Rico-like career trajectory? Frankly, just a step up on that long downhill path, a fact made all the more painful by Black Up’s crazy-dissociated atmosphere and effortless charisma that, God, what, just dissipated into the ether? Where’s the heart on this one? Where’s the life, the urgency, the vitality? The disorientation, the weirdness, the playfulness with sound, yes it's all still there, but that milk on its own has long since soured, and what we’re left with in the end is a congealed, spoiled cottage-cheese mess.

Obviously I’m left with a lot of questions that don’t seem to get answered on repeated listen. That this is a disappointment would imply that greater was expected, but this has been Shabazz for a while, and its as low-effort, meandering and limp as anything from him in the past decade has been. It's disheartening to recount the anticipation leading up to a Shabazz Palaces live performance, fueled by the electric energy of Black Up, only to be met with a blurred mess that leaves one questioning what went wrong. The memory lingers like a bitter aftertaste, an experience that, sadly, seems to have been prophetic.



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user ratings (6)
2.6
average


Comments:Add a Comment 
unclereich
April 4th 2024


12057 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Shabazz Palaces’ Uncle Rico-like career trajectory?



The memory lingers like a bitter aftertaste, an experience that, sadly, seems to have been prophetic.





wow, what a review! it's remarkable how bad ish has become. very happy to see someone from the staff share their contempt for this dude's laziness. what a meteoric downfall.

MiloRuggles
Staff Reviewer
April 4th 2024


3033 Comments


Nice nice nice review, sad and accurate

someone
Contributing Reviewer
April 4th 2024


6652 Comments


u have to admire Ishmael Butler's complete dedication to undermining his own legacy and undoing all that he did for the hip-hop world

ThyCrossAwaits
April 4th 2024


3991 Comments


I liked this as background music, I kinda liked the wubbier bits…but we’re all here to go, “Oh you ALSO think the only good Shabazz Palaces is Black Up?”

“Yup.”

someone
Contributing Reviewer
April 4th 2024


6652 Comments


ain't it tho?

Black Up is stellar and so is Digable Planets, everything else is average to awful.

unclereich
April 4th 2024


12057 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

lese majesty is a worthy follow up to black up imo. sure it doesn't have nearly the amount of hits and it's hard to argue the signs of his decline weren't apparent on there. though, there is no doubt it's a far cry from every single sonic atrocity that has come since. black up was never going to be topped as it's nearly flawless but some of his best tracks are on the lese majesty. interestingly though it feels like every subsequent release does have a stand out track that reminds me of black up. I think you could probably make a decent ep of the highlights from the last 5 releases, this one however has no such stand out. absolute garbage.

dedex
Staff Reviewer
April 4th 2024


12788 Comments


was hesitant to jam this, this great great great rev convinced me not to do so

AsleepInTheBack
Staff Reviewer
April 4th 2024


10219 Comments


slapper of a review love the first para

Pheromone
April 5th 2024


21420 Comments


black up is incredible but yes

Hawks
April 6th 2024


88146 Comments


Debut is the only one I've ever jammed lol.

hel9000
April 6th 2024


1532 Comments


Excellent review. It's amazing how terrible this project became.

Pajolero
April 6th 2024


1428 Comments


Terrifically written review. I'd be really curious to see some kind of documentary or in-depth interview that sheds some light on the nature of this dude's downright catastrophic creative decline.

KeepTheChange
April 7th 2024


107 Comments


At least we’ll always have Black Up



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