Live: Shabazz Palaces at Brooklyn Bowl

Photos by Dan Harpaz (shot April 14, 2012).

by Dan Harpaz

Last Saturday, Seattle hip hop duo Shabazz Palaces delivered a heavy dose of psychedelic rap music to fans and bowling bystanders alike at staple hipster concert venue / bowling alley, Brooklyn Bowl. Drawing on their use of traditional African percussion, giddy vocal samples, and ethereal raps, Shabazz Palaces are unabashed, bona fide innovators in a hip hop world inundated with hit makers, ghost writers, and pop stars.

The night started with hip hop group Malitia MaliMob, a Somali American duo also based in Seattle and known for its bassy club beats laced with provocative pro-piracy messages.  Working a tough crowd with only a MacBook, three microphones, and a Somali flag, the group opened brazenly with the hook, “They say they never heard of us but we ain’t never heard of y’all.” Frontmen Chino and J revved up the ferocity factor, their rhymes interrupted only by sudden pauses in between songs (a consequence of laptop DJing) and spouts of stage banter. Malitia MaliMob, apprentices of headliners Shabazz Palaces, endeared themselves to the crowd with their raw energy and gift of gab.

Once Malitia MaliMob left the stage, a crew replaced the opening act’s laptop and pedestal with two tables, another laptop, and a small collection of percussion instruments and electronics.  Draped over the tables were brightly colored, Eastern-themed cloths that would have made excellent hippy-den tapestries. Shabazz Palaces, led by former Digable Planets MC Ishmael Butler, started with a performance of “Youlogy” that was marked by synchronized in-place marches, salutes, fist bumps, and spins.  The packed venue was up in smoke before Ish could say, “Searching blind / run behind / out of time / into fire / caked up in fake love to get you high.” Multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire’s precise hi-hat and conga work complemented Ish’s effects-heavy vocals, MPC drum machine work, and buzzing electronic bass lines. Touring in support of their latest 2011 album Black Up, the duo included songs from their first two albums early in their set, including offbeat “Kill White T…” and 90s-reminiscent “32 Leaves…” Highlights of the night coincided with each time Tendai picked up his mbira nyunga nyunga, an African hand piano Maraire’s father mastered and used to popularize Zimbabwean music in America in the 60s and 70s.

Among the sea of head-nodders, one audience member singularly let loose as though he were acid-tripping to Ravi Shankar’s set at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.  This scene begged the question: “Do the people get it?” Shabazz Palaces are undoubtedly original songwriters and talented craftsmen, but I wondered if the band’s long form songs, hazy soundscapes, and tempo changes turned off some audience members expecting a dance party.  Or a Digable Planets show. Those who weren’t mesmerized appeared disoriented— but maybe that was the artists’ intention.

While taking photos, my own Shabazz Palaces-induced hypnosis was broken when I ran into raspy, deep-voiced Chino of Malitia MaliMob. I complimented his performance, and after finding out I was with the press, he eagerly called over J and brought me upstairs to a wooden, sauna-like dressing room for an impromptu interview.  ”We’ll hide a club banger – something people can dance to – and spit it real fast… to bring awareness to these broader issues,” Chino emphatically explained as the soundtrack of Shabazz’s “Swerve… the reeping of all that is worth…” thumped downstairs. Offering explanation, Chino referenced a line that caused me and a fellow blogger to exchange shocked looks: “White man you know that / pay the funds for this boat jack.” Preempting my reaction, he quickly added, “We love everybody – black, white, concrete, whatever.” “Concrete?” I thought, as Shabazz Palace’s droning piano loops from “Are you…Can you…Were you?” played, muffled, through the door. “We want to make people aware of these issues… we’re the voice of a nation – the last generation of people who came [to America] from Somalia,” said Chino. Considering their candor, focus on the art, and distaste for popularity for its own sake, it’s no wonder likeminded Shabazz Palaces have taken the outspoken Seattle up-and-comers under their wing. I wrapped up my interview, and, as the sauna door swung open, cheers from downstairs filled the room. Before I knew it, I was shaking hands with Tendai and Ish, who politely accepted my compliments and retired to the comfy backstage sofas. I then exited the dressing room and returned to a surreal scene: a completely empty Brooklyn Bowl. No lights, not a soul in sight. I supposed the hallucinatory effects of Shabazz Palaces had finally worn off.

Pictured above is Chino of Malitia MaliMob.


    Wish I could have been there.

  • Well done! The writing is very on point and the group looks sick… I look forward to hearing you make waves in the music industry in the coming months.


  • Dude, nice photos!!! The samples of Shabazz Palaces are awesome!

  • Yo Harpaz,

    Mah zeh? Ey-zeh Yofi! But for reals, well written article. Not only did I learn something about Shabazz Palaces, I also truly felt like I was experiencing the show from your perspective.

    It’s not a lengthy article and it’s not too short. In the words of Goldilocks with her lukewarm oatmeal, this Smoovtunes exclusive was juuuuuuuuuuust right :) !

    What’s up with concrete people? You should have asked them to define concrete.

    How come there were no pictures backstage with the interview?

    I loook forward to more articles. Wish I could’ve been there!

  • Dude, the explanation of the event is so lucid that I could see the whole event and if I could imagine, I hear the music. Seriously, wish I could have been there.

  • thak you for the mail. we love you

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