The Bay Area’s Lyrics Born keeps hip-hop moving forward.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Some publications waste space holding Lyrics Born up against contemporary rap music. Writers are coming to realize such comparisons are not only inadequate, but also insulting. LB isn’t just an anomaly in the rap game; he’s more like a neo-soul boom-bap Jacko.
Picture this: Your friend invites you to a hip-hop show—your first since Technotronic opened for Young MC, and your parents sat three rows behind you. The first act blows, and you’re ready to bounce with the first consensual partner you can find without visible open sores. Then you hear that song from the Diet Coke commercial with Adrien Brody—the one you tried humming to the girl at Newbury Comics. It goes, “Callin’ out to all area crews, we gonna make this shit happen right here right now.” You realize it’s by this guy Lyrics Born, and there are three verses that go with that drunken hook.
It’s cool with LB if it took licensing tracks to Coca-Cola, Motorola and HBO’s Entourage to get you wet. His label, Quannum Projects, aggressively pursues commercial outlets to reach people who like good music, but who don’t necessarily spend their afternoons on MySpace. “I’m not interested in making progressive records that people don’t like,” he says. “I’m interested in making records that push the art form and get a lot of different people in a lot of different generations moving.”
LB is cush with his place in hip-hop. In the 15 years since he formed Quannum with DJ Shadow, Blackalicious and Lateef the Truth Speaker at UC Davis, it’s been a rewarding uphill climb. He says, “Our success involves us all having a common thread of being associated with quality cutting-edge music.” And for LB—whose tongue could twist Twista’s and whose vocals could put R. Kelly into submission—quality music is the exception these days.
“I’m not doing what everybody else is doing,” he says. Technically, his routine is standard, but rather than jacking beats from wedding DJs, he digs for rare vinyl; and instead of writing lazy rhymes, he packs bars like happy hour. His first solo release, 2003’s Later That Day, has sold more than 120,000 units—a magnum payoff for a work that took more than 10 years to plot and build. The album is topical, untried and, above all, entertaining, which is just how he planned it. “I’ve proven that it’s possible to be successful and original,” he says.
LB saw the success of Later That Day as a mandate not only to push more initiatives, but also to redesign the hot iron. He got lonely during the album’s recording process, which in most cases cast him as the lone MC, vocalist and producer. “When I did Later That Day, I did it at a time when I really needed that challenge in my life of writing and producing a whole album,” he says. “But as I was doing it I realized how much I like working with [other] people.”
Like a glutton parked in front of a 17-course dinner, LB began conceptualizing his next meal before the check came. It would be a remix album involving crew regulars such as Lateef and Shadow, and his so-soulful wife, Joyo Velarde; as well as humdingers from hip-hop’s upper echelon, such as DJ Spinna, KRS-1 and Casual.
“It wasn’t really a lot of work for me since I didn’t do most of the production,” he says. “It was just a lot of fun. I needed a project without all the pressure on me.”
Not surprisingly, critics received Same !@#$ Different Day on their knees—in some cases sticking more stars and thumbs on it than they did the original. LB appreciates the glory and ringtone royalties that come with high-profile praise, but no matter what, he stays his course. “I’ve gotten mostly good reviews on all my stuff,” he says, “but regardless, it’s not gonna make me or break me. At the end of the day, whether I sell 10 million records or 10,000, and everybody likes me or everybody hates me, nobody’s gonna write that next song for me.”
This fall, LB is touring with a six-piece band to animate Same !@#$ at more than 50 venues nationwide. His influence is so spread that he even sells out in Montana—where he single-handedly doubles the Japanese-American population. He’s also producing Velarde’s solo album, executive-producing new Quannum recruit Pigeon John’s latest, and juggling his own crystal balls.
“My own career is so demanding that I have to stay focused,” he says. “But even though I’ve sold more records, gotten more notoriety and have more people at my shows—and all that shit happened quick—I’m not making music any differently.”