The Don of Diamond Dreams

The Don of Diamond Dreams

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It remains impossible to accurately describe a Shabazz Palaces album without lapsing into cosmic tropes. Yet sometimes clichés are stand-ins for eternal truths. Therein, The Don of Diamond Dreams embodies a futuristic manifestation of ancient myth, full of robotic vocoder and warped auto-tune, Funkadelic refracted into different dimensions, weird portals and warm nocturnal joy rides alongside the coast (a reflection of it being mixed near the beach in California). The synthesizers are alien but the drums speak a universal language. It is hip-hop, dub, jazz, R&B, soul, funk, African, experimental, and occasionally even pop. But over the course of five albums, Shabazz Palaces have conceived the fluid boundaries of their own one-band genre.

Even though the construction of the album is meticulous, it's a startling masterpiece of improvisation and instinct. It's both cerebral and automatic, with Ishmael Butler jotting down phrases and ideas in his phone and eventually shaping them into amorphous abstract expressionist canvasses. If anything, their latest illustrates Butler's gift for being a conduit of sounds and experience. It's partially shaped by his own reflection on being a parent and watching his son, Jazz, become internationally renowned as the artist, Lil Tracy. If you listen closely, you can hear the interplay between father and son, as Butler does what is impossible for most veteran artists: he absorbs the sounds of today's youth, but filters it through his own fractured lens, spitting back convex poems with wild cadences, freestyling with the wisdom of age and the frenetic passion of someone still trying to show and prove. It's confident and suffused with the thing that defines almost all great art: the willingness to risk attempting something new.

There is "Ad Ventures," a shout out to Butler's crew, The Black Constellation. The beat operates like a melodic free jazz hymn, with Ish boasting about Ethiopian carats and watching lakes from a theological terrace. It's an imagistic rendering of their tours through Europe in sprinter vans, blitzing from place to place and absorbing every detail. Featuring Purple Tape Nate, "Fast Learner" offers odd splendor, spoken word reveries and flexes that wriggle through a wrinkle in time. The synthesizers sound like New Age from the 37th century crossed with '90s R&B, the drums are slow and seething. On top of that, Butler laid a guitar line down and auto-tune harmonies that instantiate the feeling of driving along PCH at night.

"Wet" is a freestyle of sorts with Ish offering his own twist on contemporary rap cadences but making it sound like an underwater Atlantis symphony. There are Based God shoutouts and fuzzy guitars that wouldn't sound out of place on an Ariel Pink album. "Chocolate Souffle" is some god-level shit-talking in the way that only Butler could do: replete with Maurice Chevalier allusions and admissions of being an "elitist at the zenith of slick demeanor." While "Thanking the Girls" might be the most poignant song in the Shabazz catalog, a song that acknowledges the myriad positive ways in which women have shaped Butler's life. The second verse is dedicated to his two daughters and the pride which they engender. Of course, this is a Shabazz Palaces song so the beat sounds like a riff on Panda Bear distilled through a bent futuristic boom-bap prism.

In some respects, it's difficult to consider the possibility that this might be the best Shabazz Palaces album yet. Very few musicians have ever peaked in their fifth decade on earth, but whoever said they were actually from earth? It's wrong to say that Shabazz Palaces have gone beyond the looking glass. This time they've shattered it entirely and created a brilliant new universe in each one of the shards. The Don of Diamond Dreams was recorded throughout 2019 and produced by Shabazz Palaces at Protect and Exalt: A Black Space in Seattle, mixed and engineered by Erik Blood with mixing assistance from Andy Kravitz at Studio 4 Labs in Venice, California, and mastered by Scott Sedillo at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Los Angeles.

  1. Portal North: Panthera
  2. Ad Ventures
  3. Fast Learner ft. Purple Tape Nate
  4. Wet
  5. Chocolate Souffle
  6. Portal South: Micah
  7. Bad Bitch Walking ft. Stas THEE Boss
  8. Money Yoga ft. Darrius
  9. Thanking The Girls
  10. Reg Walks By The Looking Glass ft. Carlos Overall