Ishmael Butler is a rapper, record producer and songwriter. He is best known for his work with Digable Planets in the 1990s and Shabazz Palaces in the 2010s.
Butler, who is a native of Seattle, was born in 1969. His father was a history professor at the University of Virginia. He first forayed into music by playing the alto saxophone in his middle-school jazz band. In 1987, he graduated from Garfield High School and moved to Massachusetts to enroll in college. In 1989, Butler dropped out of college and moved to Brooklyn, where he recorded a demo of hip hop tracks, which was eventually delivered to the Pendulum Records executive Ruben Rodriguez. In 1992, Butler auditioned for Pendulum Records with his friends Craig Irving, from Philadelphia, and Mary Ann Vieira, from Washington, D.C, forming Digable Planets.
Digable Planets’ 1992 single “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” achieved commercial and critical success, charting on Billboard’s Hot 100. Known for merging hip hop with jazz and philosophical lyrics the group released two albums before disbanding in the mid-1990s.
In 2009, Butler formed Shabazz Palaces with his neighbor Tendai Maraire. After self-releasing two EPs, the duo signed to Sub Pop Records, releasing their debut album, Black Up, in 2011. Its follow-up, Lese Majesty, was released in 2014. Butler also became a member of Sub Pop’s A&R team in 2013.