Because Los Angeles is a music-industry center, a lot of artists from the area devote themselves to conformity -- yet for some strange, unexplained reason, SoCal's underground hip-hop scene remains a bastion of originality. The Shape Shifters epitomize this contradiction. Featuring mouthpieces Akuma, AWOL One, Circus, Die, Existereo, Life Rexall, and Radioinactive, and supplemented by spinner LA Jae, the sprawling crew steers clear of stereotypes on The Shape Shifters Was Here, the group's recent recording on the Cornerstone imprint. Much of the disc is out of this world, thanks to sci-fi imagery of the sort found in "Message 4 Yer Planet," an oddball assemblage of faux-futuristic noises and speed raps about making "the most of your time on Earth." Humor is prevalent, too, with "Psycho Stick," which kicks off with the declaration that "there ain't nothin' wrong with my attitude problem," and the electro-parody "Circuit City" standing atop the heap. Still, tunes like "American Idle" are more than mere novelties, because of the pointed quality of the jokes they contain. Far from being musical replicants, the Shape Shifters regularly morph into unique forms. They're an unexpected reason to love L.A.
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