The Shape Shifters own their own screwy hip-hop mix of Saturday morning cartoon imagery and Saturday midnight conspiracy theory—Coast to Coast AM plus Divine Forces Radio makes a pretty psychedelic mix, the impossible common ground between Ralph Bakshi's Heavy Traffic and Roky Erickson's two-headed dog and Showbiz and AG's runaway slave, and although guys like MF Doom and Madlib also appreciate animation's gooey visuals, Shape Shifters are the ones who really absorbed the shazam! vibe. They're the Dictators of hip-hop: unreconstructed teengenerates sampling Rod Serling and rapping camouflaged philosophy about cavemen and dinosaurs. Full-length . . . Was Here came out just about two years ago, but in between, the individual Shifters split, combined and recombined for a long line of solo projects and collaborations. And now they reunite—like Voltron, laughs rapper AWOL One, who fills in his own 12.5 percent of Shape Shifters alongside Akuma, Circus, Die, Existereo, Life Rexall, Radioinactive and LA Jae. This will be their first-ever full-lineup Chain Reaction show before a January tour where the homework assignment is to write a new album while clocking drive time in the van.
OC Weekly:Is it hard to write an album while you're on tour?
AWOL One: It's been harder lately. The people are older and have different things to do every day. It's hard to get nine people together.
It's like your own baseball team.
Except all the players are insane. On this particular tour, since we're not promoting a certain album, we're kind of going to go back—we used to do a lot of solo stuff and then the group songs, so this tour is kind of going to be that. A little more freeform, I guess. By the end of tour, we're gonna play some brand new songs. Our goal is to try stuff out and record when we get back.
That's pretty disciplined.
It's a little easier with hip-hop—we don't got to write a riff.
Who racks up the most tracks between albums?
Pablo—Life Rexall—does a lot of production, so he pops up on other peoples' records for remixes and stuff. Exist and Die just dropped a new project. It happens a lot that maybe three of us are out on tour so we'll go and do shows—kind of a combination of us. Part of the Shape Shifters, so we still represent.
I did the math and there are about 360,000 collaborations possible within the Shape Shifters. How many of those have you guys used up yet?
We've been doing different combinations for a decade already. I couldn't count them. 2MEX is the one who takes all the odd little songs and sells them at shows. But I've never done a track with just me and Akuma. I've done tracks with him and other people, but never just me and him. Back in the day I did stuff with Circus a lot, so we have a lot of stuff.
Is Daddy Kev correct to call Shape Shifters the weirdest rap group in LA?
I would think so. I don't think people really try and touch what we're doing.
How did you find so many weird people that all like the same weird stuff?
We're all rejects, so we all found each other. Like a crew of rejects find each other in school.
Are you guys into Roky Erickson?
We all kind of listen to everything. Except Akuma listens to reggaeton or something. But for the most part we all like different shit. I like a lot of the shit Mike Patton does. He's definitely one of the cats we all trip on. It's progressive but still good music. Right now I'm working on a collaboration with DJ Crook, who's from Team Sleep, so I've been trying to turn people on to that. It's not really hip-hop stuff—it's different. But it's got a vibe we can all get down with. And all of us like the one Tool album—the first one.
What do you think of the hip-hop in Europe?
It's weird—they don't speak English but they still know the words to the songs. And they smoke a lot more out there. TTC aren't a bad group—me and Exist recorded with those cats. Kind of hip-hop but the beats are electronic-ish.
What did you guys do for Halloween?
Usually we play a show every year! But this year I had a party and most of the Shape Shifters showed up. Radio was an Egyptian soldier dude. He's way into that shit because he's Egyptian.
Do you guys all get together and kind of warm up before working on group projects?
Yeah, we have little BBQs and get-togethers.
Like a Shape Shifters board meeting.
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Except it's not very organized.
And no one wears a tie.
THE SHAPE SHIFTERS PERFORM WITH GREYSKUL, CLOCKWERK AND KAMYAR AT CHAIN REACTION, 1652 W. LINCOLN AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 635-6067; WWW.ALLAGES.COM. SUN., 7:30 P.M. $10. ALL AGES.