Although "Shapeshiftesr" is Detroit MC Invincible's first album, she is hardly a newcomer to the scene. In the late nineties, she was slated to be the female Eminem, but instead opted for a more independent route, thus proudly earning the label "every A&Rs worst nightmare" from XXL. Her progressive politics, message-oriented rhymes, and uncompromising attitude to her art and beliefs were incompatible with the major label mainstream music machine, which strives to dumb things down and sex things up for the masses. She was part of New York's all-female ANOMOLIES crew for a minute, and has worked with Mos Def, Talib Kweli, written for Lyricist Lounge, and is finally releasing her first album on her own label, Emergence.
Invincible is a white, female MC with radical politics. This makes "Shapeshifters" a no-brainer for any fan of hip hop who is female and/or shares Invicible's leftist ideology. Let's make this clear, though: Invincible is much more than every white liberal's hip hop fantasy come to life. In her own words she's trying to be "one of the best, period/not just one of the best with breasts and a period." She may come from marginalized groups within hip hop, but her music is anything but marginal, and there is more to her than her gender, her race, or her politics. For one thing, she is much more intelligent and insightful than your average musician. While everyone else is stuck in "Fuck Bush" mode, Invincible avoids easy targets, instead breaking down issues of race and class. She never resorts to sloganeering or simplistic mantras, and never shies away from asking difficult questions. "People Not Places" is about visiting Israel and seeing how the Palestenians are discriminated against. "Spacious Skies" is a bittersweet breakup song to America, followed immediately by "No Easy Answers," which uses a sample of the Cure's "Lovecats" to examine the complexity of relationships. "Duece/Ypsi" lays bare the hypocrisy of Ann Arbor, in which surface tolerance and liberalism hide racism and injustice, giving Invincible the chance to lay out "the truth of the Duece, the city that raised me and failed me."
"White picket fences, green lawns
Nice, rich expensive
College campus, so progressive
Every child advances
Lies and deception
Differences tolerated with a few exceptions
So liberal and colorblind
you were beat when you crossed the street
Introduction to America
Most of my friends from Stonybrook now in the penitentiary
It ain't coincidentally
Tracked before middle school as criminals
By teachers who belittled you
Claiming they're liberal"
On that track alone she fingers the hypocrisy and institutionalized racism and discrimination that fails the poor in the country, and results in two million people in prison. She gets even more personal on "Ropes," a song about staying hopeful in the light of hopelessness, in which Invincible talks about depression, being suicidal, and having bipolar parents. "Locusts" examines gentrification in Detroit, and the violence it inflicts upon the poor and minorities, and "In the Mourning" is an ode to J Dilla and Proof. She also gets her swagger on on tracks like "Looongawaited" and "Keep Goin." The album features appearances by Abeer, Buff1, Finale, ANOMOLIES, Wordsworth, and Indeed, all of whom contribute solid verses.
It's all well and good that Invincible's politics are impeccable and on point, but she's a musician, not an essayist. What is truly important here is the music, and Invincible manages to present her message in a compelling package, backing it with a fierce flow and solid beats. Even if she were rapping about bullshit, "Shapeshifters" would still be worth listening to. Black Milk, Apex, 14k, Djimon and Jayshack, Belief, Knowledge, and Waajeed all contribute beats, and every one of them is solid, underground hip hop, left-of-center but still banging. Combined with her message, it's a must-own. I hope that Invincible finds a way to reach the masses, and that "Shapeshifters" doesn't remain the sole property of the hipsterati and those in the know. Her music is to good and her message is too important to be condemned to obscurity. Invincible stands proudly amongst other rappers with a conscience like Jean Grae, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and the Roots: rappers who aren't afraid to tackle real issues, and do it with intelligence and skill.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: August 5, 2008