“There’s the me you see, there’s the me I see, there’s the me that I really am…”
—“Pushed Aside, Pulled Apart”, Lyrics Born
Though he swaggers with the best of ‘em and has bangin’ beats to spare, indie boom-bap pioneer and Quannum Projects co-founder Lyrics Born has always been a man apart in the hip-hop world. This is both by design, and by default: as a producer and artist, Lyrics Born adamantly blazes his own trail with each new record, refusing to cynically regurgitate trends or tone down his crackling technicolor vision of what hip-hop can be. As a lyricist, he has long been known for a stellar word-stash and multi-layered rhymes that go deeper than the first listen. As a hapa/multi-racial (self-described as Japanese-Italian/Jewish) MC, Lyrics Born has also, for the past 16 years, grappled with the pros and cons of being one of the first Asian-American rappers to make a significant impact on the hip-hop scene.
For my money, however, it is not his daredevil artistic choices, nor the particular mix in his double helix that really sets Lyrics Born apart. It’s that voice. Lyrics Born’s voice, a unique instrument that can shout, soothe, and sing with equal effectiveness, is, in my opinion, an exceptionally more versatile musical tool than what the majority of contemporary MCs are packing. He’s got a sexed-up low register, a sassy, swinging shout, a rapid-fire show-off mode, a new-wave tinged melodic mellow tone, and a bunch more vocal versions of himself tucked up his hoodie sleeves, all of which coalesce into an electrifying and distinct sound on record and on stage.
In the above-quoted song “Pushed Aside, Pulled Apart”, from his upcoming album As U Were, Lyrics Born raps passionately and reflectively about being “pulled apart”, and several lines in past lyrics also acknowledge his chosen path as a road-less-travelled hip-hop maverick. Though in “Pushed Aside, Pulled Apart” he makes a compelling case for being a tortured artist who is painfully self-conscious about every choice he makes, the truth is, Lyrics Born has taken the multi-faceted influences of his personal and professional life and fashioned an unparalleled aesthetic which no one but he can claim. And there’s nothing more cohesive than that.
What was the first song you fell in love with, and what is your current relationship to the piece?
I think “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang was the first song that literally blew me away. To that point I had never heard anything like it. I was in kindergarten, and to hear an eight-minute song with no singing that only kids knew the words and could sing along to was like an indescribable high.
Who is your favorite “unsung” artist or songwriter, someone who you feel never gets their due? Talk a little bit about him/her.
To me, Minnie Riperton is the most underrated artist in my collection. Her records changed the way I wrote songs and produced. Her spirit was so beautiful and shone through on every song. “Loving You” is of course incredible, but the whole Perfect Angel album is absolutely flawless. Perfectly Angelic.
Is there an artist, genre, author, filmmaker, etc. who/which has had a significant impact/influence on you, but that influence can’t be directly heard in your music?
I love Kurosawa. My mother always made sure I was surrounded by Japanese art and culture when I was young, and his movies were always highly revered. I love the colors, the drama, the bigness, the pace… so grandiose. Everytime I start a new album, I always hit reset with Kagemusha and Ran.
Do you view songwriting as a calling, a gig, a hobby, other…?
The satisfaction of creating a hit song from nothing but an idea or inspiration is unparalleled. I love being creative, risky, and balls-out. I would be a very miserable person and tough to be around if I couldn’t record and perform.
Name one contemporary song that encourages you about the future of songwriting/pop music.
“Electric Feel” by MGMT is one of the most inspiring songs I’ve heard in years. It’s funky, psychedelic, soulful, witty, and ROCKS. All the things I aspire to be as well.
Lyrics Born recently dropped the third single from the upcoming album As U Were, a bit of quirky, ugly-mug funk called “Oh Baby”. Cop a listen to “Oh Baby” and learn more about Lyrics Born’s activities at lyricsborn.com, and check out the work of Lyrics Born’s beautiful and talented wife, Joyo Velarde, a classically-trained vocalist who can be heard on Lyrics Born’s records as well as on her own recent EP.
"PopMatters is on a short summer publishing break. We resume Monday, July 6th.READ the article