Pop the Shapeshifters Was Here disc into any computer, let the Real Player program load up and it reads: “Album Title: Shapeshifters - Was Here, Genre: Unusual.” But unusual is having a cheery Monday morning. Unusual is a snowy day in spring. Like a dog with 3 legs or an alien invasion, the Shapeshifters Was Here is not unusual in any way - it’s downright crazy and bizarre to the tenth power.
The Shapeshifters, consisting of the Wu-like numbered lineup of emcees Akuma, AWOL One, Circus, Die, Existero, Life Rexall, Radioinactive, and LA Jae, are not only a bit off their rocker; they may as well have transformed the rocker into a rocket ship and attempted to land on Pluto.
The bugged-out, bubbly production of “More Than Meets the Eye” sounds outlandishly cartoonish and fun with this almost playing out as the theme song to the group’s existence (not to mention that it sounds curiously like The Transformers theme song). But if that does not seal the out-of-this-universe deal, “Message 4 Yer Planet” playfully lingers between an underground track speaking to the mainstream or a track that just utterly confuses with lyrics that are (pun intended) out of this world.
By the time the boys proclaim George W. Bush to be an alien on “Hail President Pindar” or use the phrase, “We are the carnivore walking to the grocery store,” on “We R the Dinosaur,” the loony bunch have transcended not only the usual confines of hip-hop music, but also made it perfectly clear that their style of music will not appeal to those looking for the next gangster rappers or metaphorically-inclined undergrounders (or even the next sane rappers).
Though shown through spotty spurts of style, the Shapeshifters are a hip-hop group in every sense of the hyphenated word with lyrical talent for days. The more boom-bap interpolations on “Rockin’ These Mics,” which serves almost as an introduction to the lyrical side of Shapeshifters, proves that the members can do more than just “invade planets with intergalactic wisdom.” And the intoxicating disdain with the general public and the music industry on “American Idle” disses “idle America” and joins the Shapeshifters with Slug for the album’s most forthright and catchy jingle.
Much of the remainder of the album will leave much to be desired for those expecting Shapeshifters to transform into a hip-hop juggernaut though. The ’80s sounding “Circuit City” seems geared more towards one of those weird Volkswagen commercials than it does towards a hip-hop audience. And the robotic sounds of “You Know You Want It” or the D-12 copycat track “Psycho Stick” only serve to make Was Here that much more unappealing to the casual listeners.
Whoever called the Shapeshifters “unusual” was doing a great injustice to the word. Unusual is the sun still shining while the rain is falling. Unusual is not “aliens” attacking the planet and holding hip-hop hostage. The Shapeshifters are crazy and bizarre like a dog with 3 legs - and like the dog, Was Here just does not run right in this world.
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