Shabazz Palaces is the new co-creation of former Digable Planets MC Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler and electronic producer Knife Knights. Creating music together under a curtain of mystique, the duo declined to give interviews or even issue simple press releases early on in their conception, forcing listeners to think of them of as an entirely new entity rather than judging them on the sum of their parts and past projects.

After two critically acclaimed EP’s last year, the group was the first ever hip-hop act signed by the Independent label Sub Pop, and for their first full-length release, Black Up, they have delivered some of the most challenging and uncompromising hip-hop in more than a decade. Layered with murky, technical beats and laser-like electronic textures, the ten songs on Black Up flow together creating an album that resembles free jazz and space-funk as much as it does hip-hop. Under the new alias Palaceer Lazaro, Butler strings fluid and unrelenting rhymes that glue together open areas in Knife Knight’s frantic beats.

Reminiscent of the futuristic tones of Deltron 3030 and the Aquemini-period of OutKast, Shabazz Palaces have created thought provoking and forward thinking hip-hop album that is as innovative as it is uncompromising. Devoid of choruses, traditional hooks, or anything that resembles a radio-friendly single, the album is intended to be listened to as a single, cohesive whole. With this approach, the songs on the album showcase the talent of Lazaro as a gifted MC navigating the listener through Knife Knight’s abstract orchestrations.

Black Up is also a very short release in terms of the usual standards of hip-hop records (Kanye West’s last release approached the 70-minute mark). At a slender 36 minutes, the album plays like a short and direct musical narrative rather than a guest-heavy collection of tracks thrown together under the umbrella of an album. The songs seem unified under a single vision, and by casting all other distractions aside their unflinching directness ultimately serves to give Palaces a distinct identity as well as an extremely provocative release.

Shabazz Palaces have delivered a dense and focused effort with Black Up. The album is truly a breath of fresh air, as there have been few artists that have been able to push the boundaries of what people have come to expect from hip-hop. Sure there has been a tremendous amount of hype behind such underground acts as Odd Future and Das Racist, but neither of those groups has been able to cultivate such a vibrant and unique persona in the larger spectrum as well as Palaces have. It is an exciting effort and new direction for hip-hop, a genre that as of late has desired some long-needed inspiration and resuscitation.