Local Review: FlipJ – How to Shapeshift
Local Music Reviews
How to Shapeshift
FlipJ = Chance The Rapper + Lil Nas X
Great hip-hop in Salt Lake City has a history that’s lived pretty underground. With streaming platforms that make it possible to listen to anything and everything, the rise of hip-hop in SLC has become a diamond in the rough. That said, when I come across a great local hip-hop artist, it’s exceptionally exciting. FlipJ’s recent EP, How to Shapeshift, presents no exception to this phenomenon. The heart of the EP is artistry. Everything that’s great about the best rap songs today isn’t just the raw and honest lyrics, but the beats and synths that exist around them and the space they create. How to Shapeshift is a display of style and spatial dynamics that can only be pulled off in the world of great hip-hop.
The first track, “The Distance Intro,” is something you might find in Hollywood. The intro has an elevated synth that’s emotional and, at the same time, grooves in a way that makes the song mesh and feel like a single space. It’s the kind of rap song you listen to and understand at first blush—whether or not your understanding of it matches the artists’—that what you’re hearing is immediate and important. In the end, there are two lines of autotune that sing in harmony, “See in the distance / how gone make a difference.” The lyrics aren’t so specific that they take the listener’s thought to a specific place—instead, they are open for interpretation. It’s a song regarding “ideas about the thing” instead of the thing itself. That’s the heart of rap music in the first place, and why we point our fingers to the sky when we sing it—because we feel it.
A huge part of How to Shapeshift is the inclusion of orchestral instruments. In my book, it’s not a great rap album if there’s not a trumpet involved. It doesn’t matter if it’s a live trumpet recording or a computer-generated one—it’s just the principle of it. Surpassing expectations, FlipJ has included everything from concert percussion to a wide range of synthesizers, acoustic drums, electric beats, manipulated guitar and auto-tuned vocals. The combination reminds me of how Kanye West has been known to blend so many of those same elements together in his iconic way. Needless to say, it’s a contemporary way to make music and it’s exciting as hell. –Mary Culbertson