Where life after mash-ups begins. Z-Trip was on top of the world in 2001, with Uneasy Listening Vol. 1, which he co-produced with DJ P, causing quite the underground stir (and, along with Freelance Hellraiser’s “A Stroke of Genie-us” that year, essentially kick-starting the whole modern mash-up era). He was elevated to the upper-tier of hip-hop deejays, complete with an opening slot on DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist’s Product Placement tour and a how-to bonus video on the Scratch DVD (which I don’t even have to ask if you own). But a long time has passed since Los Angeles-based Z-Trip signed with Hollywood Records to release his first legal full-length. Could the man who sampled Star Wars and the Beatles ever hope to make an album he could profit off of?
What took so long, of course, was getting the samples cleared. But maybe it should have taken a little longer — long enough for Z-Trip to make a better record. He intentionally moved toward an old-school sound on Shifting Gears, and has carefully constructed the sound. What he didn’t carefully construct are the songs, which almost universally fall flat, most notably the four cuts without guest appearances.
The back-to-back solo joints, “About Face” and “Furious,” are really just drum breaks. The tracks and the skill they display are impressive and readily apparent, but they are hardly songs. Not until the final track, “Revolution (STR Parts 1 and 2),” with a faint vocal of Nazareth’s “Child in the Sun,” is there any semblance of the stuff on Uneasy Listening. But even that seems more like a good thing when it’s finished.
The tracks with guest appearances — a very respectful lineup of mostly West Coast rappers — fare a little better. “All About the Music” with Whipper Whip features one of the album’s better beats, and “The Breakfast Club” with Murs and Supernatural is an enjoyable old-school track with some awesome cartoon references. But Lyrics Born’s and Busdriver’s tracks are both disappointing variations of better songs on their own records, and the rock-oriented tracks featuring Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chuck D are pretty generic hard-rock derivatives.
Undoubtedly, Z-Trip is one of today’s best deejays. But deejaying and producing are very different, and an effective live performer doesn’t always translate into a successful record maker. With Shifting Gears, he has clearly moved away from mash-ups on purpose. He is trying to construct his own sound, somewhere between ’80s hip-hop and ’70s arena and prog rock (that’s Jethro Tull in there). The attempt is admirable, but the results mostly seem unfinished and forgettable.