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Ransom Notes

Andrew Muhab El-Kadi
Date Published: 


By Invincible


Social justice activists may have heard this voice before, but not like this, on fresh beats with cutting lyrics...

Rapper Invincible rhymes she’s: “strivin’ to be one of the best period. Not just one of the best with breasts and a period.” And make no mistake, she’s on the right track.

Following her 2005 solo debut with the mix tape, Last Warning, rapper Invincible is set to release her debut album, Shapeshifters this June. At Left Turn, we were fortunate enough to receive an early copy for a preview listen. Once I had the right listening equipment (started off with a cheap player), this album came alive! From track to track, it was so impressive that Invincible could keep the listener’s attention and say plenty, and do it all with substance. On virtually every track it was apparent that she, or one of the producers, understood how important a catchy hook is (not to take away from her, and others’, prolific lyricism).

Representing Detroit hip hop, Invincible fills a vacuum in hip hop that few others are able to fill. An MC who is socially conscious but also knows how to entertain while writing with substance and talent, she adds her name to a list that includes the likes of modern day MCs Mos Def and Black Thought, among others. This wasn’t completely apparent on Last Warning, but Shapeshifters confirms it. Her charisma and dynamic style is not only reflected in her rhymes on individual tracks, but also in her selection of topics, addressing everything from the Israeli/Palestinian issue, to gentrification in her home state of Michigan, to love (‘nuff said). Invincible’s release should be a healthy injection into Detroit’s hip hop community after the heart-breaking losses of rapper Proof and rapper/producer J Dilla, both mentioned numerous times on the album, as well as an unemployment rate that makes the rest of the country look like it’s economically booming.

To begin with, the first three tracks on the album are sharp and hard. Invincible can carry a track on her back, whether others are featured or not, as she exemplifies on “Sledgehammer,” the lead single on the album. “Sledgehammer’s” hook is inspirational, with Invincible singing, “Smash they walls of hate. End it for the next descendants….” followed by the Dilla-infused, “You don’t pay attention man... [That’s why your power is the size of your attention span].” Shape Shifters also includes quite a few guest appearances. Most notable are Tiombe Lockhart’s vocals on the track, “Ropes”; Wordsworth and Indeed’s presence on “Keep Goin’”; Finale’s contributions on several tracks; Palestinian R & B singer, Abeer’s chorus on “People Not Places”; and those on the track, “Deuce/Ypsi” (Buff1, SUN and PL make this one of the best tracks on the album). Invincible did a great job in selecting the producers she worked with as well, especially 14KT and Haircut from Lab Techs, who produced “Sledgehammer.” (Seriously folks, I can’t get over that track).

The collaboration on “People Not Places” laid over an Arabic-sounding beat is where Invincible discusses the erasure of Palestinian culture, citing the Israeli renaming of Palestinian towns and foods (among other things) that she learned of during her tours of Historic Palestine/Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories. She lays out an ode to the US and our issues (addressing both domestic and foreign policies) in “Spacious Skies,” and follows with the playground beat-laden, “No Easy Answers,” truly an activist’s way of addressing matters of love.

Fierce on wax

Addressing gentrification, racism, rape, unemployment, and much more, “Deuce/Ypsi” (nicknames for Ann Arbor and one of its suburbs Ypsilanti, both in Michigan) features three other artists, each bringing their own style and life experiences. About Ann Arbor (aka: The Deuce), Invincible raps “by 14, most of my feminine friends raped,” and Buff1 rhymes, “don’t let the campus fool you, it’s a whole different planet for students,” shedding light, among other things, on the gap between the lives of students in Ann Arbor and those of many local residents. The next track, “Recognize,” highlights how well Invincible and Finale work together. However the track that follows, entitled “Ransom Notes,” doesn’t hit the same chord with me as the rest of the album, although it does highlight the talent of the Anomolies crew.

The title track, “Shapeshifters,” is the lead track into the final five that more than make up for anything that might have been lacking in “Ransom Notes.” It’s an exciting upbeat track, featuring Invincible laying out rhymes over an intriguing beat, explaining the title of her album. Someone made a great choice in choosing Tiombe Lockhart for the chorus of “Ropes,” which is a somber look at life, human beings, and the world today. Enough said. Meanwhile, “Keep Goin’” combines Brooklyn’s own Wordsworth and his talented flow with New York MC Indeed. No complaints here, as you can’t complain with your head bobbin’! Invincible rhymes about mourning [in] “In The Mourning,” making mention of Proof and Dilla, and addressing deaths (and the causes) in the community generally. The final track, “Locusts,” featuring Finale as well as clips of Gwen Mingo and Ron Scott, is a powerful close to an excellent album. The beat is seductive, the collaboration between Invincible and Finale is once again smooth like a 1960 jazz joint, and the chorus sticks. Appropriately, “Locusts” talks about their native Detroit and the changes it’s gone through over the decades.

Ultimately Invincible represents a breed of MCs not very common today—clearly humble in her approach, but fierce on wax. In line with her views and lyrics, she’s a rapper who plays an important part in the community, from her rhymes to her activism. Hip hop at its greatest reflects what the artists are living, seeing, and doing to change or deal with that reality, and in kind Invincible is clearly hip hop at its greatest. While there is much left to aspire to in her career, Invincible needs a community that supports her and gives her, at the least, what she’s always given it, and it’s on this note that I encourage everyone to go out there and cop the album.