The state of mainstream hip-hop is pretty damn depressing. The entire genre has been declared dead a number of times, and the best of a generation make reality shows instead of change. Similarly, the city of Detroit has been ridiculed as economically depressed and full of unprosecuted crime in the shadow of police scandals that have come to prominence again this year. Some might say these are symptoms of a dying city, if it not a dead one. Of the respective states of Detroit and hip-hop, it is also sometimes said that one death begets the other. So how is it that one could make such pronouncements about this city and the underground hop-hop movement, then witness such a birth from such supposed death? Perhaps the stories in newspapers don’t tell the whole truth. Wouldn’t be the first time.
So this leads us to easily understand the intro track titled “State of Emergency” on Shapeshifters, the debut album by Invincible. A wildly talented Palestinian MC, who grew up in Detroit Rock City and is a longtime member of the ANoMoLies all-female crew, her rhymes are continuous fresh breathes of air in a purportedly stifled creative environment.
This is where we are: a critical juncture in social movements and humanity. So why, if we’re so dead and doomed, is every positive, hopeful Invincible beat and lyric so right on? Explained in the liner notes, an unofficial motto of Detroit remains “opportunity in crisis,” legitimized further by albums like this one, self-built distribution rising up behind it. Despite being previously offered million-dollar record deals, Invincible created Emergence , what she hopes will serve as a distribution model for others working outside the system. She raps, she organizes, she has activist-based business savvy. What doesn’t this woman, this album represent? As she puts it in “Looongawaited”: “I’m striving to be one of the best, period/Not just one of the best with breasts and a period.”
The album features a slew of talented Detroit MCs including Finale, and local Detroit City activist/expert folk like Grace Lee Boggs, Gwen Mingo, and Ron Scott (who is, in full disclosure, a good friend of mine). Many of these collaborators are also featured in the docu-music-video that is included on the CD: “Locusts.” The themes on this album, and in the "Locusts" video, don’t make sense to me just because I have family from the same geographical area and grew up personally understanding small town Midwestern deprivation. These stories of gentrification, destruction, and rebirth are universal. And from a strictly artistic perspective, this album has me nothing but excited about recognizable, reworked samples and one of the most tightly produced revolutionary blueprints I’ve put in my boombox since discovering Dead Prez’s Let’s Get Free.
Invinicible says it herself: “My job is to make the revolution irresistible” (“State of Emergency”). A line from “Looongawaited,” and from the CD jacket, is important in a downloading age (a time I admit to reveling in): “You want good music/You gotta support it.” So, go do it. Best music purchase of the year. I'll put money on it.