Saturday, July 2, 2011

Shabazz Palaces, Pet Sounds, and the Unfamiliarly Familiar

I, like many others, am currently floored by Shabazz Palace’s recently released album Black Up. Within the first minute or two of listening to it, I could already tell it was unlike anything I had ever heard before, that is, unlike any other hip-hop I have ever heard. I started to think about how strange it is that I can have that thought “This is totally unlike anything I have ever heard” in hearing a song, or a sound, or in this case, an album, yet still bring a specific genre to mind within which to establish the guidelines for what “anything” can mean in that statement. In this case, anything, only means every other hip-hop song and artist I have heard, rather than every song or album or artist or ambient sound I have ever heard anywhere in my entire life.

So, Shabazz Palace’s new album is like something I have heard before—hip-hop. The way Black Up plays out so uniquely using the same, familiar tools hip-hop has been developing since it began is, in many ways, more incredible than musicians using entirely new and unfamiliar techniques to make music actually completely unlike anything anyone has ever heard before, which is certainly something still worth admiring.

There are thousands and thousands of examples of this throughout the history of music, and we can thank these examples for progressing music to where it is now, and establishing new genres when some artist or movement managed to push things beyond those established lines we set up to define genres. The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds and subsequent Good Vibrations single, in lieu Smile, are classic examples of early game-changers.

I’ve read that “sonic” was the word primarily used to describe the new direction The Beach Boys’ sound was headed as of the release of Pet Sounds. The coining of this new term is proof enough that this album was anything else being made at the time, while still managing to be familiar enough to be called pop music (and, therefore, hold the attention of that delicate demographic of teenagers who practically determined the success or failure of albums released in the early to mid 60’s).

Pet Sounds is of course still mentioned frequently today, due to its own genre-pushing inventiveness and production techniques, often making top so-and-so lists, not to mention spawning its own “Bands Who Are Trying to Make Pet Sounds, Again” lists and claims. But the fact that this claim is often made of other bands then and still to this day, shows that it has become something that is like other things we have heard--all the music effected by it. In fact, it requires a bit of research and listening to understand how Pet Sounds, which has since become so clearly pop music, was new and bold and inventive at the time of its release.

J Dilla’s Donuts is another more recent (and probably more relevant) example of this within the same genre as Shabazz Palaces (and Bullion’s mixtape Pet Sounds: In the Key of Dee is a wonderful combination of the marks left on music by The Beach Boys and J Dilla).

has been so influential that it spawned numerous Dilla-esque (a J Dilla-specific version of it “sonic”) claims in hip-hop to come, even spreading into other genres as well, including our modern day pop radio music and genres as small and specific as, say, chillwave.

Whether or not Shabazz Palace’s Black Up will have this effect on future music will be left to time to tell. I’m sure no one could justify their claims at the time of the release of Pet Sounds that it would change the way music would be made and heard afterward, although it isn’t a huge step to make when it follows the claim “this album is unlike anything I have ever heard before.”

The difference between the two claims is that one need not justify the latter with anything besides the wonder they experience upon hearing this new musical territory for the first time, and then second time… and third time… and fourth time…

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