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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

September 2, 2010 at 7:07 AM

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Shabazz Palaces enters unconventional partnership with Sub Pop

Posted by Andrew Matson


Sub Pop uploaded five songs by Central District avant-rap group Shabazz Palaces to its soundcloud, sent an email blast, and like that, it's 'bouts to be on:

"I think we both have a lot of love, appreciation, respect and energy for music and for each other. Recognizing the fact that business is necessary for maximizing exposure to it, I think we mutually feel that doing business is less a 'job' and more an opportunity to exercise those feelings in dope ass ways. Shabazz, we bring a distinct hip-hop mentality from left to Sub Pop, which has established itself wide and deep in r&r from that same field. So, it's going to be cool to see what gets born from rolling together. And, of course, Seattle is the immeasurable muse, the backdrop, backbone, the foundation to how we all get down. So SP feels a lot of pride around this partnering-up as well. The people, the office, the deal, it all feels super plush. So stay tuned, it's 'bouts to be on."—The Palaceer, Shabazz Palaces

Love Palaceer Lazaro's definitions of Shabazz Palaces' music as "hip-hop from left," and Sub Pop's music as "r&r from that same field."

Also: "partnering-up." No master/slave, signer/signee relationship.

The deal breaks a perceived rockist barrier on Sub Pop's part, though it's put out non-rock music before, and even worked with local hiphop — The Evil Tambourines and also the Conception Records experiment come to mind. Still, a few years ago, nobody would have predicted the label to sign an afrocentric rap act from the Central District, no matter how "from left" the music was. Then again, a few years ago, nobody knew what Shabazz Palaces was, or that such mysterious, transportational hiphop was possible.

It's always special when Sub Pop looks to Seattle for artists to work with. There's a feeling the label only works with the best we've got, that for a local act, getting signed to Sub Pop is like being knighted, the label saying, "You are officially doing the coolest music around."

To the Seattle public, a local signing is also a mirror, and this one says, "You are black, you are hiphop, you are boldly different." For a city and a label so closely identified with whiteness and grunge, it's a big realization.

Sub Pop's last major local signing was Fleet Foxes, who also have a "from left" sound that's at once historical and visionary, and that group ended up playing SNL and having its albums sold in Starbucks (sophomore album should be written and recorded right around now). I imagine something less conventional on the horizon for Shabazz, whose members have already tasted all kinds of fame in past lives and seem now to want something else, but who knows? It's the kind of music that could become popular or not, but it's certainly strange and beautiful enough to gain obsessive superfans.

It's not about a "next Nirvana," but if that's the paradigm, Sub Pop is now working with both Seattle's best fits.

Shabazz Palaces plays The Stranger's "Genius Awards" at The Moore 09/17/10

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