This article was originally published by WireTap.
July 10, 2008
Balancing art and activism is a challenge. Just ask Ilana Weaver, better known to hip-hop fans as Invincible, the Detroit-based emcee who has been rapping for well over a decade. A 2002 XXL Magazine feature lauded her as a talented lyricist and seasoned performer. She was also called “every A&R’s worst nightmare” due to her notorious reputation for turning down record deals and butting heads with industry stalwarts.
Invincible’s home base is Detroit, a city where struggle and irreverence are hallmarks of local residents. Left behind in the post-industrial rush for profit, Detroit has the worst on-time high school graduation rate of any major city in the country, with less than 40 percent of youth receiving diplomas. Young people, frustrated with outdated teaching methods and dwindling job prospects, work hard to forge new opportunities.
While Weaver has worked with innovative Bling 47 producer Waajeed and emcee Talib Kweli, she’s also an organizer, seeking balance in both worlds. Recently, she started her own record label, Emergence Music. Weaver also works with youth in Detroit Summer, a grassroots non-profit, to develop youth leadership through hip-hop and media campaigns and to address the city’s dropout crisis.
In May, she released her first solo project, ShapeShifters. A self-described “lifetime in the making,” the album showcases her lyrical skill, political insight and musical connections. Featuring production and guest appearances by artists Black Milk, Waajeed, Tiombe Lockhart, and Detroit political activist Grace Lee Boggs, Invincible is poised to take her music and message to new audiences, all while inspiring social change.
Wiretap: How did you begin making hip-hop?
: I moved from Palestine/Israel to the United States when I was seven. When I moved here I only spoke Hebrew, so I started to listen to hip-hop to learn English. Most people [learn English through] “Hooked on Phonics,” but I guess you could say I got “hooked on hip-hop.” I’d hear a word and then go look it up in the dictionary. I started writing my own verses when I was nine.
How did you get your stage name?
: I was about 15 when I started to take rhyming seriously. One of my friends at work was really into graffiti, and we would have these ciphers. I dabbled in graffiti, and he dabbled in rhyming, but eventually we both got really serious about each of our elements. He gave me my name because he wanted to see something that looked good tagged and started with “I”–my first name is Ilana. We also picked the name because it had a battle-emcee competitive feel to it.