Album Review: Shabazz Palaces’s Quazarz Series


After a three-year break Hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces released two albums on the same day: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines.

Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star

As the title suggests, the album has elements of Afrofuturism. On tracks like “Since C.A.Y.A” and “Deesse Du Sang” the pulsating beats, sharp drums and distorted vocals create a futuristic soundscape.

There are points when the album feels like it might runaway with itself onto the astral plane. Before the tracks become untethered, however, the album comes down to earth with songs that sound a bit more conventional. I say “a bit more” and that’s exactly what I mean. “Eel Dreams”, for instance, is my favorite song on the album. Its a funky, synth song, but it definitely doesn’t sound like your usual hip-hop.

Even songs like “Parallax” and “Fine Ass Hairdresser”, which contain more vocals than most of the other songs, are anything but straightforward. “Fine Ass Hairdresser” is the closest the album comes to a conventional hip-hop song.

The album’s vocals work on an aesthetic level. Lyrically the themes of afrofuturism are reinforced. The vocals’ distortion serves as another layer of the futuristic composition. In most hip-hop songs lyrics take center stage over a (hopefully) good beat. On “Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star” the vocals are another instrument, their lyrical content notwithstanding.

The last four tracks of the album are its most psychedelic and futuristic. Songs simmer, boil and then explode. “Moon Whip Quaz” introduces the character Moon Whip Quaz aka Quazarz. The song sounds like the 80s but…well…in the future. Its refrain is the title of the album, repeated through most of the song with varying levels of funk and synth accompanying it.

The album ends (give or take a few tracks) with the introduction of Quazarz. His saga continues on the next album…

Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines

This album starts completely differently. The vocal introduction sets the mood. Right off the bat the listener can tell this isn’t going to be the cerebral experience that QBOAGS was. There are lyrics here (lots of them) full of critiques and commentary.

America’s culture of violence, consumerism and hip-hops inundation of Trap music are topics covered on “Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines.” “30 Clip Extension” goes after modern hip-hop and its empty culture of excess. “Welcome to Quazarz” prominently features the word “kill” and references to America’s self-destructive nature. “The SS Quintessence” continues to explore the control of the powers-that-be through oppression and jealous machines.

The vocals remain an instrument on the second album but their function is different. On QBOAGS several of the songs had refrains. On QVTJM the lyrics are varied and relentless. They catalog issues, piling them up in stacks, an audio embodiment of America’s many problems. A decent amount of the vocals are in the form of spoken-word poetry.

Quazarz vs. Quazarz

QVTJM never approaches the level of abstraction on QBOAGS. Judging them separately is a difficult task. QVTJM is unquestionably closer to hip-hop than QBOAGS. That being said, QBOAGS’s level of experimentation is admirable and fun. It’s not a chore to listen to the funky weird beats and vocals on QBOAGS. It’s not often experimentation is also entertaining.

The merits of QVTJM are in its lyrics. To understand QBOAGS is not to wade through the waters but to surrender to them. No such sacrifice is necessary on the second album. The listener knows what QVTJM’s thesis is: America (and the world) is hurting itself. It explores this concept on macro and micro levels. Consciously it has QBOAGS beat, but musically it’s almost in a different strata.

Of course, there is another way to evaluate the albums. They are companion pieces, pieces that form a series. QBOAGS is the primordial ooze that QVTJM climbed out of. In that sense the albums are terrific. After the chaos of QBOAGS the listener progresses to the easier sounds on QVTJM. It’s a brilliant evolution.


The members of Shabazz Palaces are Ishmael Butler and Tendai “Baba” Maraire. The Quaraz series represents their third and fourth studio albums. The albums were both released on July 14th, 2017. They can be purchased on iTunes or streamed on Spotify and Tidal. The albums are fine standalone compositions but I recommend listening to them back-to-back. All the better to witness the progression.

Grade 4/5


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