November 18, 2010

Invincible – Shapeshifters

It’s a little beside the point but, I must say, in a genre that often gets saddled with a reputation for unapologetic misogyny, I love the fact that a woman might be the best rapper in the world. Ilana Weaver, aka Invincible, absolutely kills it throughout Shapeshifters, showing flow, verbal dexterity, pace, rhyme structure, breath control, wordcraft, wit, wisdom and sheer depth of vocabulary that leaves me flabbergasted every time I hear it. Go ahead, try to sing along to any of the verses on “Sledgehammer”; even with a lyric sheet in front of you, you’re likely to end up tongue-tied. Weaver introduces herself by declaring a “State of Emergency”, a mission statement which is fully realised throughout the remainder of the album. That’s one of the things that makes Shapeshifters such a marvel – it’d be enough just to hear Invincible’s flawless technique, even if she had nothing relevant to say. But she has so much to say – “Spacious Skies” is a scathing, backhanded love-letter to the USA in which Weaver expresses her Invincible - Shapeshiftersyouthful optimism turned to disillusionment after having emigrated from the Middle East as a child; the Israel/Palestine conflict gets a thorough and thoughtful treatment on “People Not Places”; “Deuce/Ypsi” addresses the challenges faced by minorities and lower-class residents living on the south-side of an otherwise affluent University suburb; “Ransom Note”, which features co-members of all-girl rap group Anomalies, reels off a list of demands to an unnamed media/communications mogul, including free citywide wireless and modern computing equipment for poor schools; “In the Mourning” is a touching J Dilla tribute, which goes so far as to explicitly shame listeners for only truly discovering his genius after his death; and the history of urban gentrification is delved into on closing track “Locusts”. When you take all that, and then top it off by throwing in a handful of great guest appearances (emcee Finale, in particular, stands out) and some absolutely exquisite production touches, which sees tracks backed by everything from flamenco to blazing electric guitar bursts to twinkling, 1950s piano, you end up with one the most substantial, important and flat-out amazing hip-hop albums of the decade. Plus, it’s her debut. I’m stunned.



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