Ever since their remarkable debut Black Up was released almost a decade ago, Shabazz Palaces have been gradually loosening their sound. The aesthetic has become hazier, the vocal performances slipping ever more into the background, and an uncharitable view is that the group are putting in less effort than they used to.
The Don Of Diamond Dreams continues this trend: several tracks have a distinctly non-committal air to them and the lyrics often have only a fleeting relationship to the standard rap verse format. Chocolate Souffle is a highlight, featuring some of the best lines on the record (“she looked at me with diamond eyes / she ain’t been back home since July – it’s March”) over a sneaky riff, while Bad Bitch Walking’s laidback groove soundtracks a conceit that feels only half-satirical and a great guest verse from Stas THEE Boss.
The central problem with this record, however, is that ‘loose’ and ‘laidback’ can turn into ‘lethargic’ and ‘forgettable’ pretty quickly. Fast Learner’s ’80s drums and spacey atmosphere are nice and all, but the whole track is basically one middling verse from Purple Tape Nate and a long intro and outro where nothing of note happens. Money Yoga loops a few phrases in mind-numbing fashion over a gaudy trap beat, and if it’s meant to be a comment on modern rap’s repetitive nature then it’s still boring and uninspired.
The production livens up quite a few of the songs – Wet’s disorientating stereo effect, Ad Ventures’ mystical plucks – and it might be fair to say that Shabazz Palaces have paid more attention to sound design than song structure or lyrical content. A more radical shift in that direction might prove fruitful, but sadly The Don Of Diamond Dreams feels like aimless indulgence from a group that are capable of much better.