Invincible Interview

June 4, 2008

Invincible is releasing her first album this year, but don’t get it twisted: the Detroit emcee has been reppin’ the mitten for years. Moving to Ann Arbor from Palestine when she was seven years old, she learned English through Hip Hop by writing down lyrics to her favorite songs and looking up the words. The rest is history: earning a rep in open mics and ciphers led to her working with Michigan all-stars like J Dilla and Dabrye, and to thriving in New York as a member of the all-female Anomolies crew and a writer/performer of MTV’s defunct Lyricist Lounge Show. She’s also been deeply involved with Detroit Summer, an organization that develops youth leadership and addresses community issues. Anyone who really knows the history of Michigan’s Hip Hop scene doesn’t have a choice but to respect her longevity and her grind.

It looks like all of her hard work is starting to pay off. ShapeShifters finally sees her on the solo stage, where her talented cohorts—Wordsworth, Buff1 and Finale on the mic with Black Milk, Waajeed and HouseShoes on the boards—are adding to her vision instead of the other way around. A large facet of this vision is independence: studying Waajeed’s operation of The Bling47 Group has helped her develop the know-how to release her album through her own label, EMERGENCE Media, with distribution from Fat Beats. In an in-depth interview with MichiganHipHop, Invincible talks about her album, being “an A&R’s worst nightmare,” and what it means to be a ShapeShifter.

Up until now, you’ve done cameos for other artists. What was it like having an entire solo album to yourself for the first time?
Doing a full album was amazing, because I was able to focus on all the personal stories and concepts I always put on the backburner when working with other artists. At first it was overwhelming because I usually work really well with other emcees; I mean, each person I work with brings out something new in me and I try to compliment where they’re coming from as well. But once I got in a rhythm with writing and recording, it created a sense of freedom that I didn’t have anyone else to answer to. It was also dope to have all my longtime fam do cameos on the album.

Starting a label is something a lot of artists like the idea of, but aren’t aware of all of the work that goes into it. Talk about some of the things you had to do to make it happen:
I want to create a whole manual with how to do this sometime down the line…but basically I sat down with my homie Wes from Athletic Mic League, and we created a business plan. I went around with it looking for investors, and then when some situations fell through, I just self pressed up the “Sledgehammer” single and started promoting the project. After that, me and my homegirl Jenny from Detroit Summer were brainstorming alternative funding methods and came up with the presale voucher idea, to get the listeners and community to “invest” in the project. I also wrote up a whole statement on how I wanted to connect fair trade and cooperative economics with Hip Hop through how I released the project. My friend Mike from Detroit Summer loved that concept and came on board as a partner. We started EMERGENCE as an official LLC and went about the steps of post-production, manufacturing, promotion, and touring that we felt matched the ethics of the music itself.

One thing that’s really stuck out to me is that in both your cameos and your work with Lyricist Lounge, you’re always working with really dope artists. How did that help you?
I’m just blessed to have all those cats around me: from Athletic Mic League, to Finale, to Anomolies, all the way to Wordsworth of the “Lyricist Lounge Show,” he’s a huge mentor to me. Everyone I’ve come across throughout the years has been a huge influence, but a huge inspiration moreso, and I think I serve that same purpose for them, so it’s kind of a mutual support. Especially with me and Finale, we keep each other on our P’s and Q’s; it’s not competitive in a real way, but you kind of push each other, make sure each other is reaching the highest potential. I think all those people I’ve worked with over the years have brought out the best in me, and I’ve been able to help them bring out the best in themselves. That’s why I think it took so long for me to do my thing, I wanted to make sure I was at my highest caliber when I dropped my first project. I didn’t want to just come out with something random and sloppy. I wanted it to be really eventful and something that represents me fully—not just content-wise, but stylistically, with the technical skills, and all of the above to make it well-rounded project. I learned a little piece of each of that from everybody I worked with. I just take all the best parts, mix it up with my perspective, and make it my own.

Now that you mention it, your chemistry with Finale is crazy—musically you guys click, and just seeing you guys around each other, you can tell that you guys are best friends. How did you guys meet, expound on “Recognize” from the album, and just talk about how you guys click so well.
Finale and I met after Decompose played me some of the joints they had recorded together, and I was blown away. We kept picking the same beats on different beat CDs producers had given us. Then finally one day we sat down to write a joint over this one HouseShoes beat that we both picked. That became “Locusts”, it was our first real collab and 5 years later of working on that song and many others we are like brother and sister. He’s been with me this whole album release tour and I can’t wait for his album to drop so he can get his proper shine.

How did you hook up with “Lyricist Lounge Show,” and what was your involvement?
I met Wordsworth when I was 16 on my first visit to NY, and he got me my first job when I moved out there a year later. We both worked at an afterschool/summer program with kids at the Frederick Douglass houses in Harlem. That was the same year the Lyricist Lounge pitched their show to MTV. The concept was inspired by freestyle ciphers that took place during the recording of the Lyricist Lounge Vol 1 compilation. When the pilot got picked up Words let me know about the audition, and I went and checked it out.

The initial cast had already been chosen by that point, but I got hired as one of a handful of lyrical sketch writers. That basically meant I was up freestyling and writing these sketches with 10 dudes 23 hours a day for a month each season. It was crazy…kind of like the “Keep It Real World.” [Laughs]

The network was mad wack and racist, and that manifested in many ways including certain sketches being cut for being considered “too black” or “too hip-hop” by the network reps. That was eventually one of the main reasons why it got taken off the air, but while it lasted I learned a lot from writing together with everyone who was involved with it and all the special guests I had the honor of working with.

As you said earlier, you’ve gained a reputation as an “A&R’s worst nightmare.” What was that like for you as all that was going on?
As a young artist coming up, you just have this ideal in your mind for all your music to get heard on a large scale, and I want longevity. The majority of the deals that were coming at me were focused on reaching a lot of people, but in a way that was going to ruin my potential to grow as an artist. You walk in a room, and somebody’s like, before they even want to hear your music, “What’s your marketing scheme?” Basically, they want to hear that first. … It was moreso about how they’re going to put you in a box. And someone like myself, in some ways, my gimmick is not having a gimmick. I just make good music, and I stay true to the shit I talk about. The shit I talk about is what I do. So that’s not the most marketable thing in the world, and the things they were trying to market me off as I weren’t really feeling, so at some points I was just like, “Fuck this: I’ll make music for the love of making music, and continue to do work with the youth and all the other stuff that I do.” For me, the independent route has always been something I thought would be the ideal situation. I just didn’t know the steps to make it happen.

Now that I’m able to create my own label EMERGENCE, I’m learning every step of the process, from beginning to end. What I wanted to do with EMERGENCE is really create a manual, or at least a model, for other artists who are interested in signing themselves to be able to do that. I’m not out here trying to sign everybody; I’m trying to get people to sign themselves and create something that’s a viable option for people, so they don’t feel like, “I’ve got to sign this rap deal or I may not have another chance.” That’s what people always tell you, but in reality, you turning down those deals could create a better opportunity for you to put something out independently, or get another situation that’s more conducive to you as an artist. My thing is being able to show that this route is doable, and it can be successful, and it can be a better alternative than signing your life away to somebody who just might put you on the shelf. Nine times out of ten, if you know how the industry works, you know that you’re better off starting independent. If you don’t stay independent, at least start out that way, so that you have a foundation for yourself.

The song “ShapeShifters” really hit me, with the way that you brought concreteness to the effect that Hip Hop can have. What inspired that?
That’s on some science fiction type shit. When I wrote that, I was reading a lot of Octavius Butler, that’s really dope science fiction writer. I wanted to do a Hip Hop song on that level, just thinking outside the box. What would happen in the year 2070, or even further down the line, on some post-apocalyptic type shit? Who would sample Hip Hop at that point in time, and how would they sample it, how would they evolve it? Just really looking at what we’re doing. It’s not limited to Hip Hop. I feel that every era has a subculture that really represents the resistance of the people and the spirit of the people in the struggle that want to change the world for the better. I think in our day and time, Hip Hop is one of the main things that’s doing that, changing our surroundings for the better. In the song, I want to see who samples it down the line. I want to live my life in the way that people want to sample it. That’s the way I approached that song, just really looking at how…one of the lines in the song is “We go door to door, to reconnect the cord from the brain to the aorta.” For me, it’s like Hip Hop has a way of making people reconnect their hearts and their minds. A lot of the time, it’s corny to think. People don’t want to think or feel; they just want to desensitize themselves to the world and sort of turn off. In Hip Hop, you can listen to a real serious situation going on, but you’re bobbing your head, the lyrics are dope. The whole way that it’s presented is somewhat susceptible, and that’s the power of it to make people really tune back in to what’s going on in the injustices, and the power that we have to change it.

Tell me about Detroit Summer—what the org does, and your involvement.
Detroit Summer is an organization that develops youth leadership in Detroit using Hip-Hop and “each one teach one”-style community workshops. It’s been around since 1992 and I’ve been involved since 2002, so I’ve had many roles over the years starting with throwing community Hip-Hop and Activism block parties, to doing fundraising, to running a writing workshop. Now, we have a program that I helped start a few years ago called the Live Arts Media Project, or LAMP for short. The youth involved created an audio Hip-Hop documentary called “Rising Up From The Ashes: Chronicles Of A Dropout” [Click Here], and do workshops around the city addressing the injustices students face in the schools and how those affect the dropout rate by pushing students out in many cases. They also propose solutions and alternative approaches to the way schools can operate so that it can be a more supportive environment. The solutions and critiques have to come from the youth and not from people out of school like myself because the youth involved in the situations are the most impacted by them and therefore have the most perspective on them. LAMP youth also organize an all-ages Hip-Hop event called D-Tension; the next one is at Cass Cafe on June 19th.

From your work with Detroit Summer, to songs like “Locusts” like you were talking about earlier, you seem to really be intent on making an impact on the world around you. What gives you so much inspiration?
I don’t really see any other way for things to happen unless you feel that kind of passion for it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m from the Middle East, but I was politicized very early. At an early age, I realized that the things going on in the world affected me, and that I could affect them as well. So my whole life I’ve always just been about, when I see something going on that’s injustice, I‘m going to do my best to change that situation or create an alternative to it, you know?

That’s my whole concept with the ShapeShifters project: we all have that power, we’re all shapeshifters. We all are in a place where, whether we know it yet or not, we’re more powerful than we realize. I want it to be something that’s integrated into my life; it’s not like my activism is over here, and my music is over here, or one takes precedence over the other. I really make them weave together, and in that way, people can relate to it that normally would just turn it off. That’s why I really choose to include it in my music; I could just do my activism and rap about how dope I am all the time. I have songs like that, and I can make every song like that when I want to. But it’s real important to me to make music that means something and can make an impact. And I know for a fact that it makes an impact, because people come up to me on a regular basis and let me know, “This song helped me get through a real serious situation,” or, “This song shed light on something for me that helped me get through my day,” or, “This song taught me about something I didn’t know about yet, and I did this as a result.” Like life-changing stuff. That’s not what I intend to do with my music, I’m not out here trying to change nobody’s life. I’m just trying to speak on what’s important to me, but as a result, it starts to flow with other people, and that makes it mean a lot more than just somebody thinking I’m dope. Although that’s important too, but more than just being, “Oh she’s dope,” it’s like, “Oh she’s dope, and the content is meaningful and it’s going to resonate to people who might not even care about the skill. It’s going to resonate with someone who’s going through the situation I’m speaking about, and it’s going to create a face for them and make them feel like their voice is heard. That’s what Hip Hop did for me growing up. It spoke to the issues that were completely overlooked.

Invincible “Sledgehammer!”

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Invincible “ShapeShifters”

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Invincible “In The Mourning”

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Invincible’s album “Shape Shifters” is in stores now and available for purchase online at


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