The Shapeshifters have been a presencein the Los Angeles hip-hop scene for more than a decade at this point, but they still sound like they're a bunch of stoned delinquent fuck-ups. And that's a good thing. What other band can get away with basing their latest single (in this case, "Circuit City") around the main riff from Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue"? And what other group would even want to? With rhymes about dinosaurs, conspiracy theories and imaginary serial killers, the Shapeshifters still sound like they watch too much TV: "We're the Decepticons, all the way," says rapper AWOL One. "We're the Cobra Commanders—we're all the evil in the cartoon world."
That's typical goofiness for the Shapeshifters. Their insignia is a rip-off of the Star Wars logo, and the group barely got off their asses in time to finish their most recent album, The Shapeshifters Was Here. "Our label, Cornerstone, had a deadline, and we had about half of the record done," rapper AWOL One says. "We didn't know how it would turn out, but we were happy with the final project."
But as goofy as the group appears, there's a surprising amount of political acumen within their latest album. The group's frustration with politics and general misadventure in LA is shrouded behind jokes and samples, but a song like "Pindar" on their latest album spells out how George W. Bush isn't always who he appears to be: "I'm really glad that George Bush won the election, or else that song wouldn't mean anything," AWOL says. "Kids can listen to it for four more years and learn that he's reptilian!" And while much of the album finds room to liberally quote the wisdom of Rod Serling and Homer Simpson, the group also spends time dealing with rougher experiences at such places as the recently closed graffiti park in Belmont.
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"We all grew up kicking ass right there," AWOL says, remembering the days when the Shapeshifters were predominantly graf writers. "But it's kind of a bummer: toward the end of the Belmont days, it turned into a big crackhead hangout, and people were getting jacked at night. We all paint still. Not as much as we used to, but we still get down."
It's been 10 years, and the amount of maturity the group has gained is kinda questionable ("We're always clowning around and shit," says AWOL One. "I wish we did move away from that stuff sometimes; maybe a few years down the line, we might settle down a little bit"). And they're still making fun of hip-hop itself—especially conventions like name-checking and excessive advertising. Nearly every song sneaks the group's name into the chorus or at least heavily seeds it into the verses.
"We have a running joke in the band about how many times do we actually say 'shapeshifters' on the album," AWOL laughs. "It's never intentional, but it's fucking funny. One day, we're going to try and take a shot for every time we say 'shapeshifter' and see who passes out first."
THE SHAPESHIFTERS WITH BUSDRIVER, SUBTITLE, 2MEX AND BARGAIN MUSIC AT THE GLASS HOUSE, 200 W. SECOND ST., POMONA, (909) 629-0377; www.theglasshouse.us. FRI., 7 P.M. $15. ALL AGES.