The Shapeshifters Was Here

Artist: Shape ShiftersTitle: The Shapeshifters Was HereRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Max Herman

The ShapeShifters are an odd bunch. This pack of LA MCs/beatmakers/graffiti writers can be as goofy as they come in Hip-Hop. Despite their sometimes-cartoonish demeanor, these Angelenos are capable of making some serious music without taking themselves too seriously. And often coming armed with some of the tightest, b-boy ready beats out of Southern California doesn’t hurt a bit. On their latest album, The Shapeshifters Was Here (Cornerstone R.A.S.), the ShapeShifters continue to leave their distinct mark on Hip-Hop, one track at a time.

Beginning with the Transformers-inspired “More Than Meets The Eye,” this album unveils itself to be unlike anything you’ve heard. Core MCs Akuma, AWOL One, Circus, Die and Existereo alongside in-house producers LA Jae and Life Rexall bring the heat--at times with a touch of oddity. Take “Message 4 Yer Planet,” where the Shifters take the form of aliens who offer humans a wake up call of sorts (a la the classic sci-fi flick The Day the Earth Stood Still). But don’t think this album strictly consists of outer space rap. In fact, traditional b-boy friendly numbers like “Run The Crowd,” “Rockin These Mics” and “Domination,” which pulse with energy, are likely to leave you yearning to see these cuts performed live. Even the disco-ish “Circuit City” carries the same head spin inducing quality.

On the more stimulating side of Was Here lie compositions both disturbing and irreverent. The eerie “Psycho Stick” sees the Shifters creep into the minds of the sick-minded serial killers of our society. Over a combo of bass licks and synth strikes, these MC’s appear to be playing psychologists more than anything, attempting to figure out what drives these psychos to do what they do. Approach this one at your own risk. On the more sarcastic side of things, but no less deep, is the standout posse cut “American Idle.” Featuring the talents of 2Mex, Busdriver and Slug, this mockery of overnight stardom demonstrates how people will bypass what’s most important in life just to be famous.

The ShapeShifters truly live up to their name, taking so many approaches to Hip-Hop. Thus, this album offers something for almost everyone, from hardcore b-boys to the sensitive types. Nonetheless there are a few extra-soft numbers like “Lil Life” and “Quit Your Job” that beg to be skipped by anyone. At 20-tracks deep, though, an album having a handful of skipable songs is acceptable.

If you dig the Freestyle Fellowship, think of the Shifters as their bugged out cousins. Read the writing on the wall: The ShapeShifters Was Here and they left behind one of the most varied albums of the year.