At their recent Chicago show, Shabazz Palaces‘ Ishmael Butler — once of Digable Planets — pulsed over his mic while wearing a black motorcycle jacket, a pair of gold-framed, frosted sunglasses, and a white and red bindi draped across his head. His partner and percussionist Tendai Maraire slapped congos at his right, in a caramel leather Members Only jacket, a reworked pair of LL Bean boots with purple rubber soles and faux-fur trim, and a pair of square-edged aviators that coolly rest below the bridge of his nose. Looking at the dapper pair — whose chemistry comes through their eccentric, rhythmic beats and stage choreography — it’s easy to find overlap between their eclectic personal styles and their music.
Butler and Maraire’s tour wardrobes are packed with bold colors and prints, funky takes on classics, ornate accessories, bespoke trousers, and a nod to their fathers’ wardrobes, with an appreciation for quirky vintage pieces. “We don’t coordinate; we mostly compete,” Butler told Hive before the show. Whether or not they’re in competition with each other, Shabazz Palaces have already distinguished themselves from the stylistic monotony in contemporary hip-hop.
Butler’s ability to stand out in is in part due to his long-standing role as an observer of fashion in hip-hop. “It’s become homogenized,” he said. “Early rappers like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa, Run DMC, Whodini and the Fat Boys all had their signature styles, but now everybody’s style is a fitted cap, jeans, a certain type of leather coat, a chain, a t-shirt with some kind of insignia or logo on the front, and some expensive shades.” Butler and Maraire’s wardrobes extend beyond these basics; but their self-expression is aided by material items, not defined by them. They’re also wary of fashion’s role in hip-hop. “Music [now] is more about commerce than art,” Butler explained. “Unfortunately, people don’t pay close enough attention — and even when they recognize the materialistic side, they still don’t really care because the system has us concerned with too many other things.”
Combing through their suitcases while on tour promoting their Black Up album, Butler and Maraire told Hive about their favorite sartorial pieces, revealed their recently-designed Shabazz insignia, and offered a reward for Butler’s missing pair of sunglasses.
The vibrant cloths strewn under their gear onstage:
Ishmael Butler: I bought them in Holland because they’re well-made and I like the colors. People usually buy them in six-yard lots and make clothes or curtains out of them.
Butler’s diamond-encrusted panther ring:
The panther is significant because my mom and dad were in the Panther party. They traveled to Lowndes, Alabama and would drive through the south to register people to vote. I used to wear my dad’s clothes when I lived with him. My favorite thing of his was a three-quarter length sheepskin coat with sheepskin trim around the pockets. It works.
Maraire’s bespoke velvet pants:
These are by Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes. We go to him and his crew in Seattle to get our custom stuff when we have a show coming up. They’re straight master tailors.
Shabazz Palaces sweatshirt with patchwork insignia:
Tendai Maraire: We worked on the design with Maikoiyo.
IB: There’s an ‘S’ on the front and a ‘P’ on the back. There’s also an alternate pattern underneath the design with a seersucker in a different black. Tonight is the first night we’re selling at the merch stand.
Butler’s brass winged belt buckle:
I got this in Los Angeles, ten or eleven years ago. It’s the only belt I wear.
What’s the best place you’ve worn it to?
All right, where’s the best place you’ve taken it off?
Those might be the same.
Inside their pockets:
IB: I have the best iPhone case in the galaxy. It doubles as effective weaponry.
TM: It took him seven or eight iPhones to get to that case.
Maraire’s custom Nike Jacket with red velvet lettering that reads “Zimbabwe” and has a 206 decal, honoring the Seattle area code:
I like this because it represents my country, Zimbabwe. My family is from there and I’m originally from there.
IB: And he’s got the Seattle representation on there.
Maraire’s avant duck boots:
These are my favorite boots right now. I got them at a spot in London.
IB: When we’re there, we usually drop a few dollars. You can find shit there that’s not cookie cutter.
Butler’s travel staple:
I always take this piece of blanket with me. It was woven in Yemen and it’s cool [to wear] when it’s hot out and warm when it’s cold out. It could be a blanket or a tablecloth or scarf.
Butler’s favorite accessories:
IB: It goes from scarves to jewelry to shades to shoes. I brought these [burgundy ribbed suede and crocodile boots] from ‘85 for special occasions, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs only. I got them at a vintage spot in Seattle called Voo. We’ve had the good fortune of finding a few vintage spots.
TM: That’s where I picked this leather jacket. It’s the only Member’s Only jacket I’ve seen with the label next to the pocket.
Butler’s secret to keeping a clean closet:
I live with my son so he cleans it out for me unbeknownst to me, a lot. One time he got in trouble at school and I had to come clean out his locker and there were six pairs of my shoes inside. He would just take them and decide what he was going to wear that day, when he got to school.
The worst thing Butler lost while on tour:
I had these custom black glasses from the ‘70s that I got in L.A. and somebody in Brussels busted the windows to the van and stole everything out of it. My glasses were taken; it was a heartbreaker. They were glasses that some movie star had made for himself a while ago and they were the coldest. As a matter of fact, you can put the word out: Silver glasses with the double bar on the side. Somebody in Brussels has them. If the guy who took them from me comes and gives them to me then it’ll be such a “peaceful” gathering. I’ll pay handsomely for it.