Lyrics Born: Everywhere at Once

[14 May 2008]

By Alan Ranta

'Cause We Be All One, Brother

Tokyo born Tom Shimura is a challenge to the industry by his existence alone, made a force to be reckoned with by his continually blossoming underground success. Together with Lateef the Truthspeaker, his Latryx project sold over 100,000 copies and really put him on the map. His solo debut Later That Day made a serious rumble in 2003 with the single “Callin’ Out” landing in more commercials than David Arquette and Jon Lovitz. A well-traveled remix collection followed—featuring the skills of DJ Shadow, Morcheeba, Stereo MCs, and more—and a 2006 live album only raised his profile. Lyrics Born has done quite well for himself.

Sadly, as a half Japanese, Half Italian-American, Tom’s skin color alone was one of his biggest barriers in the way of his acceptance in his chosen field. In the 1993 vintage rap come late ‘70s funk bomb “Cakewalk”, he says “a Japanese rapper, that’ll be the day / that’s what my teacher told me back in the 12th grade / you believe that shit?” The subtly reggae flavored soul throwback “The Skin I’m In” goes on to fully explore a life of prejudice as a minority in America. Despite this unfair disadvantage caste upon him, Tom has succeeded, and not by toeing any fusion lines. Later That Day oozed funk as sticky as molasses and as authentic as Afro Sheen, and his sophomore solo effort only builds on that. Everywhere at Once has all the G-Funk of Doggystyle and, what’s more, actual intelligent discourse about racial and sexual inequality.

He tackles apathy towards global warming, presidential propaganda that escalates violence for commercial gain, and the overmedication of society all in an unusually Japanese punk-influenced “Do U Buy It?” That’s probably the least funky track he’s ever made, but it works in context. The opening “Don’t Change” essentially outlines his manifesto over a squawky boom-bap beat and Bootsy bass, shouting out the Stanley Cup while defending his aesthetic and life choices as proven correct over time. Granted, there isn’t anything as overtly revolutionary as “Callin’ Out” here begging you to take it to the streets, but there’s enough to wet your activist whistle.

Politics aside, the record’s most gripping cut is surely “Whispers”. It describes in great detail of the realization of the death of Tom’s close friend Benjamin Davis, who went by the MC name Mack B. Dog. Beginning at the moment he heard the news, going through the funeral, the story of Ben’s final moments, and culminating with Davis’s little brother taking his place as Lyrics Born’s best man, the lyrics are delivered with a righteous passion and ultimate respect. Over a slow, sparse, piano and horn laden beat, it’s one of the most moving hip-hop tracks in the history of the genre, hands down.

Everywhere at Once is an improvement over his debut from start to finish. This time around, he made the wise decision to forego clearing samples and put his live touring band into the studio. As a result, the instrumentals are even smoother than before. Lyrically, Born is as memorable as ever, and his voice is aging like fine wine. He can rap with a raspy gravel baritone and switch to a sickly sweet croon at the spark of a joint. Even with a few fairly obvious girl odes, he comes off selfless and heroically thoughtful. Everywhere at Once is hip-hop soul food. The heart never knows the color of the skin. Gawd bless.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/lyrics-born-everywhere-at-once/