Lyrics Born Discusses His Recently Released New Orleans Flavored Album "Real People"

Posted by Billyjam, May 23, 2015 11:52am | Post a Comment

"No, I never thought that one day I'd be working with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It's funny because I went to the Preservation Hall in the '90s to watch them play and I appreciated the music, but my world was centered around hip-hop for a long long time," answered Lyrics Born when quizzed if he ever envisioned himself one day working with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, as the longtime Bay Area emcee/Quannum co-founder/Latyrx member does on his latest solo album. Entitled Real People and released through his own Mobile Home Recordings label, it is the eighth album (including solo and group) from the artist born Tsutomu "Tom" Shimura, and is available from Amoeba in both CD and digital download formats with a forthcoming vinyl version on the way.

Mostly upbeat with just a few down-tempo tracks, the 13 track, 44 minute album is a recommended uplifting funky fresh collection of New Orleans flavored hip-hop unlike any you've heard before that features, in addition to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, such other NOLA heavyweights as Ivan Neville and Trombone Shorty, plus full production by the Big Easy's Robert Mercurio and Ben Ellman from Galactic. In addition to the full Galactic band (who join Lyrics Born on the killer cut "Rock-Rock-Away"), other album contributors include Corey Henry, Corey Glover of Living Colour, David Shaw of The Revivalists, and Billy Martin of Medeski, Martin & Wood fame.

About a week in advance of his May 4th album's release date, the Amoeblog (myself and photographer James Mak of Joysco Photos who took all of the photos of Lyrics Born for this article) caught up with the Tokyo-born, longtime Berkeley-based emcee (who originally went by the emcee handle of Asia Born) at one of his favorite hometown cafes, Au Coquelet on University Ave. There the longtime Bay Area artist discussed the making of his musically adventurous Real People that included handing over full production duties to someone else, his thoughts on the changing face of the Bay Area, and his insights on being an independent hip-hop artists.

"Luckily, as an independent artist I was never dependent on record sales for my income," noted the veteran East Bay emcee who, unlike so many of his fellow hip-hop artists who started out at the same time as him two decades ago, is still going strong and doing his thing on his own terms. "It's funny but I think I am the only guy out of all my peers that didn't get signed to a major label within that time so  I never really had that multi-million dollar bloated promotional machine and distribution working in my favor. So what did I do? Well, I  just did things the old fashioned way: talk a lot and just get on the road and work hard. And that's all I really had. And that's all I still do. I think [that] those early days somewhat gave me the training to be prepared for the direction that the music business was going," noted the artist who describes his adult lifelong hip-hop career as, "The only job I've ever had. It's the only thing I've ever wanted to do, for better or for worse."  For Lyrics Born, it has been more of a for-better career with him creating classic signature songs (both solo and with Lateef the Truth Speaker as Latyrx) such as "Lady Don't Tekno," "Calling Out," "I Change My Mind," and "I Like It I Love It" - all staples of the concerts and tours that he does year-in, year-out. "I've developed this catalog. I have a name. I have people that support me. So it made sense for me to start doing my own thing," he said of his own 100% fully independent record label Mobile Home Recordings on which Real People was released.
As for how the idea for the new New Orleans music themed album came about? "I've been doing this for so long now. So the question was for me at this point was what am I gonna do for my eighth album that nobody else has done? I ask myself that everytime I am getting ready to do a [new] record. In 2010, I did As You Were, which was an '80's electro funk as was 2008's Everywhere at Once - those two were kind of a set. And 2012 and 2013 was the Latyrx comeback for lyrical experimental hip-hop," he replied referring to the duo of him and Lateef's Disconnection EP and The Second Album LP respectively. "So I really wanted to do something where I can be real funky and band-y sounding, but I had already done that so I was thinking how can I do that but have a different twist. So New Orleans just seemed like the right fit at the right time. I already knew the producers really well - Rob and Ben from Galactic from working on their albums and touring with them over the years - and I just knew a lot of the New Orleans guys just from doing festivals and touring over the years."

While the album features all those different NOLA artists and may sound like it was all recorded live in the studio with all musicians present, it was actually pieced together in the studio with the musicians recorded first and separately inserted into the mix with Lyrics Born joining the two Galactic producers only in the studio and laying down the vocals with them. "It's the first album that I've done in a long time where I was in the [same] room with the producers," he pointed out since that is something unusual in hip-hop these days where most things are all done via the Internet with MCs and producers in different locations. "It's a very funky retro sounding album but it was done in a very hybrid modern and retro kind of a way. It's the first album where I've turned all the production over to somebody else." That's because of his faith in  the Galactic members. "Nobody can make this type of album - a New Orleans funk record - better than those two guys. And it was very nice to have an outside opinion saying that 'You know this is not working. Let's try it this way' - things like that. So it was good to have that because, left to my own devices, I probably wouldn't have gotten beyond my own limitations. And that's what every album is about for me; growth. I have to grow! It's just mandatory." 

Lyrics Born "Real People (Live)" KQED Arts (May 2015)

Knowing how intertwined Lyrics Born's roots are with the Bay Area, I asked him his thoughts on the relationship between being an artist and coming up in the Bay? "I don't think that my story could have happened anywhere else to be honest," he replied without missing a beat. "The history here is just so deep; the confluence of culture and politics and ideas and technology and music.  I just don't think my story could have happened anywhere else - particularly in the late 80's and early 90's - me looking how I look, last name with a vowel, doing what I do but yet it wasn't that unusual here in the Bay. I didn't really enter into the game feeling like I was an outsider because when I took a look around it was so mixed with so many different backgrounds - ideologically, culturally - so for me to be doing what I was doing in the Bay was not really special or different. And that kind of gave me the confidence to feel like what I was doing was legitimate. But then once I got out into the world I soon realized just how special and specific to the Bay Area all of that was."  However since the time period in the early nineties when he started his hip-hop career, he has seen changes. "Certainly the Bay Area's changed a lot. In a lot of ways the Bay Area became a victim of its own success. It's transformed a lot since [when] I started making music or even from when I was growing up here. And unfortunately it's not as artist friendly as it once was. And that makes me sad because that was one of the reasons why it made it so attractive to begin with. Like I can clearly remember in the nineties people were moving here to be a part of the music and cultural scene. Even if they weren't artists - they just wanted to be around that energy around the time when Solesides was popping and Quannum was cracking.  Stones Throw was still here, and Hiero was here, and Crown City Rockers, and Zion I…..and people were coming from all over the country and the world to live here because they wanted to be a part of that culture that was happening here in the Bay Area."
As for his future, it doesn't look Lyrics Born will be slowing down or quitting the music world anytime soon. "I still have shit I wanna do," he laughed hinting that there might even be a Real People Part Two. "I may get back in the studio with Rob and Ben again and see what we can cook up [as] I feel like I have more to say in that vein!'  Pick up Lyrics Born's new album Real People, featuring such standout tracks as "Chest Wide Open," the title track, and "Rock-Rock-Away" featuring Galactic, from Amoeba Music in both CD and digital download formats, with a vinyl pressing soon to follow. Also look for his 2003 album Later That Day (Quannum Projects), 2008's Everywhere at Once (Epitaph), and 2010's As U Were (Mobile Home/Decon)

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Bay Area Hip-hop (36), Mobile Home Recordings (1), Solesides (3), Quannum (3), Joysco Photos (4), James Mak (8), Lyrics Born (13), Lateef The Truth Speaker (1), Latyrx (4), Berkeley Ca (1)