L.A.'s schizoid rap crew The Shapeshifters coming to Off Limits
May cause dizziness, vomiting, lightness of being, anxiety, restlessness, reduced mental capacity and nausea—the Shapeshifters’ early albums tend to resemble the warnings on the spray paint cans that originally brought this Los Angeles rap collective together.
Starting as an offshoot from LA’s famed CBS (Can’t Be Stopped/ Cali Bomb Squad) graffiti crew, the group began performing on stage and distributing self-produced cassette tapes in the early-'90s. Fueled by unhealthy doses of innovative rapper Kool Keith, late-night talk radio conspiracy theorist Art Bell and xylene, the Shapeshifters’ starfleet propelled the ramshackle into the future shock. The resultant transmissions detailed prehistoric UFOs, time-traveling Chupacabras and robotic deities utilizing free-word associations usually reserved for the psychologist’s couch or the surrealists’ salon.
The low-fidelity recordings challenged the listener with a loudly mixed cacophony of drum loops, videogame noises, feedback, toy keyboards, vocoders and science fiction movie samples. More chaotic than funky, the Shapeshifters’ sound often resembled crossed signals on the AM radio dial.
Piloting the Shapeshifters mothership is a rapper/visual artist aptly named Circus (Marcus Aureli), a man known to make surprise performances at open-mic nights in small L.A. caf#&233;s dressed up like a character from Nintendo’s “Legend of Zelda” video game. A man known for spontaneously performing Jane’s Addiction songs a cappella at hip-hop shows. A man whose longwinded monotone raps rarely rhyme. He is a man with a knack for the absurd—the man who rapped, “I am the vampire hunter, robot imposter, oxymoron, just another abstract definition of a true human being.”
Set the time machine for 2004, and we find Circus joined on the microphone by long-time collaborators Awol-One, Existereo, Radioinactive, Akuma, Die Young and Life Rexall.
The Shapeshifters come off as a bizarro West Coast Wu-Tang Clan, with each member adding his own fume to the fire, from the angry though not entirely awake Awol-one to Existereo’s skewed double-time take on early-'80s disco rap. The latest album, the Shapeshifters was here, manages to showcase their ability to perform more traditional braggadocio hip-hop and tongue-in-cheek parodies without traveling too close to our corrupt planet.
DJ L.A. Jae produced much of the Shapeshifters was here, which is musically quite a bit more accessible then the early works. Receiving an advance from their label, Cornerstone Recording Art Society, the Shapeshifters were able to spend more time on making a cohesive album. Much of the low-fidelity noise, though still present, has gotten lost in danceable disco, electro- and reggae-infused hip-hop rhythms. Circus too has stepped out of the forefront, as the Shapeshifters seem intent on developing the dynamic necessary to excel as a group. These changes are welcomed as they set out on a West Coast tour to prove they can rock the party as well as convince the devolved masses that Replicants control their future.