The first words of Lyrics Born’s eighth album speak volumes about where the legendary MC stands these days: “Real people do real things. Yes we do.” The Bay Area resident born Tom Shimura has stood at the peak of high-minded underground rap, explored the far reaches of interstellar synth-hop, and blazed trails galore both solo and as half of Latyrx. But as clap-along live funk of Real People’s titular song fires up and that familiar, molasses-rich voice enters the fray, it’s clear LB’s feet are squarely on the ground with the rest of ours, scuffing up the concrete as they kick, stomp, shuffle, and dance to the unpredictable rhythms of grown-ass living.
Twenty-two years after he was introduced to the world with “Send Them” — the landmark left-field 12- inch that launched the Solesides label b/w DJ Shadow’s “Entropy” — Lyrics Born has made some of the most organic, original, and adventurous music of his entire career. While touring with Latyrx last, he made time for an extended stay in a place that he’s long admired: America’s first and last real-deal music town, New Orleans. LB stocked up on pads and pens, rented a cozy house three blocks from the famous Maple Leaf Bar, and booked two weeks’ worth of sessions with Galactic guys Robert Mercurio and Ben Ellman at their Uptown studio. Then they let it rip.
Funk has always been a part of what Lyrics Born does — his unique vocal swagger dishes out melody and rhyme with equal aplomb. But never has he evoked the idiom so directly or made an album that feels so alive. He turned the production over entirely (also a first) to his NOLA colleagues, giving them space to do what they do best, and him the freedom to write. Mercurio and Ellman wrangled a host of talent to execute the vision: Trombone Shorty, Ivan Neville, the Preservation Jazz Hall Band, Corey Glover (Living Colour), Corey Henry (Treme Brass Band), David Shaw (The Revivalists), and Billy Martin. Amidst all that quirk, soul, and raw talent, LB was reborn.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the phrase “second act” comes up more than once on Real People. Married 10 years to his longtime partner-in-song Joyo Velarde, and a father to a 5-year-old son, our host embraces adulthood without reservation. He sounds happier, wiser, and looser than ever, whether revisiting his days as a child of divorce (“Real People”), dedicating a smooth cut to lifelong romance (“Around the Bend”), penning a kiss-off to the music industry (“Good Riddance”), examining the Great Recession in depth (“WTF”), or bragging to the beat on “$ir Racha.” LB’s liquid delivery morphs appropriately for every occasion.
That too is to be expected though. The Tokyo-born, Berkeley-based artist has owned his career each step of the way, ever since a radio gig at UC Davis’ KDVS put him in the same room as Shadow, the mighty Blackalicious, and his Latyrx partner Lateef the Truthspeaker. As co-founder of the Solesides and Quannum Projects labels, LB was vital in pushing independent hip-hop music into the limelight, dropping a minted classic (The Album) with his duo in 1997, and another one on his own with Later That Day in 2003. The Same !@#$ Different Day set followed in 2005, rounding up the likes of KRS-One, Dan the
Automator, Cut Chemist, E-40, and Morcheeba for a series of radical remixes. A year later, Overnite Encore captured LB’s renowned live set (complete with backing band) in Australia.
He expanded his palette again with 2008’s Everywhere at Once on historic punk label Epitaph Records. The instrument-heavy LP spawned a Jimmy Kimmel Live! appearance with “I Like It, I Love It,” which was actually the man’s second visit to the show. (He teamed with Galactic the year before to do their first song together, “What U Need.”) Now, after dropping 2010’s synth-powered As U Were via Decon, Lyrics Born is proud to officially launch his very own Mobile Home Records with Real People. The new album’s strong focus is a compliment to the wild range of Latyrx’s 2013 return, The Second Album, which featured collaborations with folks from tUnE-yArDs, Decemberists, and Anticon, among others. As always, LB remains committed to delivering the unexpected and outdoing himself with ease.
Tom Shimura – Lyrics Born
Jon Monahan – Guitar
Uriah Duffy – Bass
Max MacVeety – Drums