Stress Jingle/Station ID #40: Ishmael Butler

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Ishmael Butler (aka Ish aka Butterfly aka Palaceer Lazaro) is a musician, MC, producer and main creative force of musical projects like Digable Planets, Cherrywine and, more recently, Shabazz Palaces.

Butler spent his childhood in Seattle, Washington, where he was born in the early 1970s. His father provided a rich musical environment, exposing him to an extensive jazz collection. As he grew up, he augmented that foundation with rap; he also played saxophone in his teen years. Upon completing high school, he attended the University of Massachusetts on a basketball scholarship but quit before long. He decided instead to earn an education in the music business, taking an internship with Sleeping Bag Records, a New York City-based hip hop label, in the mid-80´s.

Since then, Butler’s path to musical acclaim has been far from linear; the Seattle-based musician forgoes the prestige for the homegrown and keeps a private life away from the stylized glamour that hip hop can provoke.  

Back in the 90´s, Ishmael was part, along with Craig "Doodlebug" Irving and Mary Ann "Ladybug Mecca" Vieira, of the New York hip hop group Digable Planets. They incorporated elements of funk, samba, and psychedelia into their street-savvy hip hop; jazz, in particular, played a pivotal role. The group gave shout-outs to icons Charles Mingus and Charlie Parker, and sampled others, including Sonny Rollins and the Last Poets. They developed a language and style that was unique. After two studio albums and several tours (and commercial success), the Planets dissolved in 1996.

After a short musical break, Ishmael Butler released two tracks under the moniker Cherrywine in 2001, followed by the album Bright Black, released in 2003.

Ishmael and multi-instrumentalist Tendai 'Baba' Maraire, anonymously self-released in 2009 two EP´s of a new musical project called Shabazz Palaces. Their debut album, Black Up, released in 2011, swooned critics and audiences alike, waxing poetic on identity and black consciousness. It as the first hip hop act to be signed to Sub Pop Records.

Their most recent release, Lese Majesty, dips its toes into stranger sonic waters, leading the listener through a gripping path through the cosmos, colluding oligarchs, and #cake, a stinging commentary on social media-ification of the world at large. The record is styled like a series of suites, listening like a triumphant hip hopera instead of a record. It is considered by many as one of the best albums of 2014  and "the future of hiphop".

Shabazz Palaces - along with THEESatisfaction, Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, OCnotes, Nep Sidhu , Kahlil Joseph and Eric Blood - are also part of an artistic collective of musicians, visual artists and designers called The Black Constellation. It is presented as a "unified cross disciplinary guild of Soothsayers, Makers, Empaths, and Channels [...] The Black Constellation combines the astral and the earthly; the gorgeous with the abjectly honest; the ancient with the as of yet unimagined... All the while remaining in constant communion with the Sacred."*

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