Every time rapper Ishmael Butler passes through the Triangle, it seems the country is experiencing a major conflict.
Last year, when he came to the area with his former hip-hop crew Digable Planets, it was on the heels of the police-involved shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The peaceful protests in Dallas that followed descended into chaos when a sniper started shooting at police officers.
A year later, he’s back with his new hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces and is set to perform Monday, Aug. 28, at the Cat’s Cradle Back Room in Carrboro.
This time, protesters have been going toe-to-toe with people who identify as neo-Nazis and white supremacists while debates rage on about the place for Confederate statues.
But Butler, 48, said he isn’t fazed by the recent headlines.
“That’s what this place is,” he says, calling from the road. “We sort of been taught the idea of what America is, what it aspires to be and what it should be. But it’s very often what it is now.”
He later adds, “I mean, this is a wacky country. And, now, we’ve reached our wacky pinnacle with the wackiest guy you could think of, who is representing this country around the world as the head of state.”
These days, Butler is more concerned with getting people to check out the latest music from Shabazz Palaces, the experimental hip-hop group that consists of Butler and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire. Last month, they released not one, but two albums, “Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star” and “Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines.” They also have released an “illustrated album” to go along with the “Jealous” disc. A 32-page comic book interprets the album track-by-track and can be accessed via a download code with a book purchase.
After Butler and Maraire recorded “Jealous” in Los Angeles, they recorded more tracks in Butler’s Seattle hometown, coming up with tunes that their label, Sub Pop, wanted to get out as soon as possible. The result is the double feature.
“We thought it might be something, since we’re sort of a lower-level group,” says Butler. “We have to find ways to get it mentioned, and the more story you have – the more backstory you have, the more dynamic that you have, the more brass that you have – the better chance you have of getting seen and noticed and getting your music heard. So, we had the music. We had those assets. We tried to figure out a way to use them. It was a challenge, but that’s what it’s all about, you know – trying to do something different and test the waters.”
The accompanying video for “Shine a Light,” the lead single off “Gangster,” ventures into experimental territory. The black-and-white clip features Butler, who plays a goat on a platter, about to be sacrificed during the wedding ceremony of a young bride and groom.
While people have been baffled by the clip Butler said he doesn’t see why it’s a big deal.
“Well, everybody’s saying the stuff is strange,” he says. “But there’s an orange, reality-TV show host as the president. So, I don’t really understand what’s strange about some poetic images that take place over the course of a three-minute song. … It’s a direct reflection of the times that we live in, as far as I’m concerned.”
Who: Shabazz Palaces, with Porter Ray
When: 9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 28
Where: Cat’s Cradle Back Room, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro
Cost: $17, or $19 at the door
Details: 919-967-9053; catscradle.com