Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler first heard it when he was a kid in the mid-1970s: the woozy, apocalyptic funk of 24-Carat Black.
Butler’s father, a history professor, routinely brought home avant-jazz LPs of the day, exposing his son to Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders before he was even old enough to read. Somewhere in his record collection was 24-Carat Black’s only studio release, a bleak concept album called Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth.
“When I was young, I heard the album a lot,” says Butler, who was once known as Butterfly from Digable Planets. “As I got older, my impression of it was, damn, this shit really is good—and really outside the normal approach to R&B.” Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth, released on Stax Records in 1973 and reissued just this year by Craft Recordings, paired hard grooves with unflinching soliloquies about black poverty and despair. The tracks were long, and, from Stax’s view, not easily marketable. But for Butler, even the inky-black cover and band name seemed charged with meaning. “The name was always right to me: 24-Carat Black. That was a slick use of words and imagery that evoked something ancient, mysterious, dark, bright.”