I cannot stop listening to the new Shabazz Palaces CD.
It's a short set, and they've packed it: a half hour of druggy slow electronic samples and buzzy washes of loops (and reverse loops) over delayed piano, lone horn lines, siren voices, humming bass synths, and quiet, minimal percussion. The raps are cool and standoffish and regularly devolve into repetitive, insistent chants. For example: "You know I'm free."
Today, I'm going to write about track #7, "Recollections of the wraith," mostly to quibble with my wonderful friend, and hip-hop scholar, Charles Mudede.
Mudede had a couple of tweets yesterday, including one about Shabazz Palaces. (His other tweet was about how he's seriously rethinking Marxism thanks to a pair of anthropologists he's reading, David Graeber and Sarah Hrdy.)
Mudede's Shabazz Palace's tweet said this:
Last night, I had a wonderful discussion with Ish of Shabazz Palaces. He confirmed my theory of rap: It's all about that first/opening line.
I want to hear more about this conversation because, to talk like Charles for a moment, it's quite curious to me.
"Recollections of the wraith" ends, like most of the tracks on this CD, on a repeated refrain after a mumble of off-handed opening lines that don't occupy much space and actually serve as prologues to the full blown closing seance chants. The opening lines seem almost incidental, as if we've joined Shabazz Palaces mid-desultory tangent before they get to the words of wisdom at hand.
In the instance of "Recollections of the wraith," the money line is: "Clear some space out/so we can space out" delivered over a beautiful aria soul voice, crooning "ooh-wooh-ooooh-oooh"
Indeed, this short set is built around its repetitive close-out mantras, not its opening lines: "I want to be there, let me be in there;" or "Black is me/Black is us/Black is free;" or "forever and never/forever and never/forever and never."
Mudede says the opening line is the key. Let's test that out.
"Recollections of the wraith" begins with the line: "With that moonlight on your mind/you'll wonder what you'll find." That throwaway teenage poetry is almost meaningless. If anything, the snare drum pop beat that starts the song is the important thing here, eventually joined by a bass accent rumble on the important "space out/space out" directive.