Saturday, March 6, 2010

Zumthing Different

Rock Der Planet

Request... Here is one of my favorites. Which is surprising, because the first time I listened to this album I thought I would never be able to get through it. It's a loud, sprawling, poorly recorded mess of a record, spread across two discs, each over an hour in length. There are a million emcees and musicians cluttering up a mix that's already dense with old movie clips, science fiction sound effects, reverb and tape hiss. Every so often a beat comes in to carry a melody made on a cheap keyboard, but it's just as likely to cut out into a drunken karaoke session than to keep things moving. If ADD has a soundtrack, this is it. I distinctly remember walking across town back home from Jam Records the day I bought this, with the first disc playing in my discman and my headphones punishing my ears, and thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?"
Before that day, I had never heard the Shape Shifters. Back in LA I had heard of them. And since Awol, Circus and Radioinactive had appeared on OD's Beneath the Surface I knew they must be dope. I had even picked up music by Awol (his NME 12", to be exact), so I figured I had a pretty good idea what the Shifters were going to sound like.
Eh, wrong.
There is no way to prepare yourself for an album as disjointed and crazy as this. It's like no other album from the LA underground that I'd heard at that point. The hippyish vibe from Beneath the Surface is laughed at with this record. Awol's more traditional hip-hop is likewise absent. "Let us warn you: before storming into this funhouse is run by the gimmicks of lunatics, don't be tricked by the politics of microchips, think different," rants Circus in a double-tracked, jumbled, nearly incomprehendable - and perfect - introduction to the album. Immediately after, an impossibly-heavy beat drops while Circus and Radioinactive continue on - except that the two emcees are rapping entirely different spiels from one another... over the top of one another... at the same time.
And the album continues it's twisted path from there. The Shape Shifter hallmark topics of alien abduction, worldwide conspiracy theories, and religion share verses with references to hannah-barberra cartoons and children's toys. Straight-forward emcees (Mek, for example) share space with the sedated freestyles of Tommy V or the afore-mentioned schizophrenic rants of Circus. And in more ways than one, this is Circus' show. More than any other emcee he represents the fullest on this record. Where each emcee gets their 16 bars, Circus takes 64. His name is on nearly every track, as emcee and musician, and his raps are by far the most far out, keeping the other-worldly aquarian illuminati vibe alive and ever-present throughout the two discs.
And although initially Know Future is a dense, crazy, exhaustive listen, it's ultimately rewarding. Circus is a mad genius, and if you let the album play, you can hear how the tracks flow in to one another, keeping the ever-morphing sound collage going. The subject matter, as well, plays out like a well-scripted manifesto: Circus is passionate about what he believes, and although his delivery may be goofy and masked in humor, he has a lot to say. To him, the connections between Jesus and GI Joe are obvious, and when you listen, you begin to see it, too.
After this record, the 'Shifters consolidated their talent a little, got a little more focused, and put out a couple well-received albums. However, the chaotic, charismatic madness that's so apparent with this album (and it's predecessor Planet of the Shapes - also a double-disc affair) is absent with those later releases. It's too bad, because this is how I will always think of the Shapeshifters - crazy, inventive, imaginative, and completely into doing their own thing. It's these qualities present with this album that kept me listening again and again. It makes me wish there was more like it in the 'Shifter vaults.
I should stop ranting now. Give this record a listen; it takes some work on the listener's part but it's well worth the effort. It may even open up your eyes a little. Be sure to check out the liner notes at the top to see who's on what - like I said, there are a million emcees on this release.

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Know Future


  1. Haha your blog is amazing. I loved all the art associated with the Shapeshifters albums, so thanks for the big links.
    Any info on this Girl Power tape?
    I's got's "3 eyed Cowz presents 4 eyed Mortalz" which has "Gull Powa" on it.
    Related work?

  2. Hey thanks guys! Moosetrack, I don't know anything about the Girl Power tape except that I found it listed at discogs

    It's some tape they made in '98. the track listing has quite a few songs I'm not familiar with - and oddly enough, "gull powa" isn't listed as one of the songs. go figure.

    Hopefully someone out there will share the love...

  3. Girl powa, now thats a song i havent heard in a while... i first heard it on a compilation i came across called
    "The L.A. Virus Volume Zero" which features songs by peace, acey, shifters and more, it wasnt until later that i discoverd the four eyed mortals album. you might have heard of that just thought i would mention it...

    Cant wait to see Shifters and Fellowship next month at Paid Dues!!

  4. Just re-read this post and your passionate writing about the Shapeshifters catched me again. I virtually forgot your love for Circus :D