I’m not the only one who wondered what happened to Digable Planets. Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) and Blowout Comb are still highly regarded, but as the jazz-inflected hip-hop scene out of which they arose ossified into nostalgia – I’m also not the only one whose first hip-hop crush was on The Low End Theory – there were no queries beyond Trivial Pursuit questions.
Quietly, almost sneaked out, two EP’s, helmed by Digable Planets scion Butterfly, were released earlier this year under the moniker Shabazz Palaces. A triumph of timbre and flow, they’re also inscrutable and hermetic, reminding me tonally of Blowout Comb, but where the latter boasted expansive grooves that compensated for the mumbled asides, Ishamel Butler, the former Butler, foregrounds his slightly nasal but forceful vocals, pushing and prodding the spare beats and samples. It reminds me of what Tribe attempted on the enervated Beats, Rhymes and Life, with vocal flourish. These EP’s boast some of the best hip-hop tracks of the year. Jeff Weiss’ review (he calls it the best hip-hop album of the year to date) provides additional context.