There’s a point in Lyrics Born’s ambitious solo disc, Later That Day, where he calls Quannum label-mate Gift of Gab for a heart-to-heart after getting smacked down by an automated teller for not having “any fucking money”. He’s weary, pissed off and slightly amazed (the song he has to sit through while he’s waiting on the phone is a slow R&B jam sung by his domestic partner and Quannum regular, Joyo Velarde, moaning about some “asshole” who won’t let go), the banality of Everyday Life having caught up with him full-force. In LB’s words, the “personal shit” has gotten to the point where he doesn’t have any control over his life. By the time that his duet, “Cold Call”, with Blackalicious’ Gab is over, Lyrics Born (AKA Tom Shimura, once known by his Solesides fans as Asia Born), has hung up the phone on his close friend, the interruptions and annoyances having pushed him to the limit.
Although “Cold Call” is, on its surface, is a slam on telemarketers, the song nevertheless is a metafictional climax of sorts for Lyrics Born’s Later That Day — with his homies busy with various distractions business and personal, Shimura ends up alone with his frustrations, thoughts and sequencers, ready to explode at the world but still wanting to bring the real funk back into his life. That might be thinking a bit too hard about an album that, in the solid hip-hop tradition of the Solesides and Quannum collective (which counts LB, Blackalicious, Joyo, DJ Shadow and more among its membership base), just wants to rock the party and forget the troubles of daily life. But Lyrics Born has spent the last several years on his own putting this relatively diverse offering together, and it shows in every song.
Joyo and Constance Lopez pop in continually on the aptly named “Stop Complaining” to tell him to do the same. “U Ass Bank” — a hilarious skit in the tradition of those found on the brilliant De La Soul is Dead — shows how (financially or spiritually, it’s your call) broke he is. “Love Me So Bad”, a silky duet authored by both Tom and Joyo, is about how the former keeps acting “irrationally” because he’s got so much “baggage”. After letting out a wearied sigh, LB’s acapella intro to “Before and After” offers a snapshot of a troubled mind — “This is hard for me to write / It’s difficult to express this / This is heavy on my shoulders / And the weight gets tremendous / A story of brothers in a beautiful friendship / And how relations get strained with pressure and tension,” he rhymes — cornered by the real world, where friendships come and go like colds.
It is this kind of borderline solipsism that makes Later That Day compelling; by the time, it’s over, you’ll be torn between also wanting to tell LB to “Stop Complaining” or bobbing your head to the bottom-heavy funk of “The Last Trumpet” (a duet with fellow Quannumite and Latyrx pal, Lateef the Truthspeaker, that sounds ominously like “Storm Warning” from the Spectrum release), the braggadocio stomp of “Pack Up”, or the soul-stirring jam, “Bad Day”. LB has always been capable of wielding language like an AK over crackin’ beats; in fact, Later That Day features some of the Quannum crew’s best, which is a feather in LB’s production cap, since he basically made this thing on his own.
But it’s hard to remember if he’s ever been this introspective before. Although Lyrics Born has always worn his heart and mind on his sleeve, Later That Day feels like a catharsis of sorts, sometimes to the point that you just want him to get the exorcism overwith and happily move on, secure in the knowledge that he’s partially responsible for the organization, administration and artistic output of indie rap’s most interesting collective this side of Def Jux. After all, cats in Iraq have shit to complain about. Rap artists? Don’t we hear them bitching enough as it is?
Yet LB does play it safe in the end, keeping this ship from running aground on rampant self-absorption. His rockin’ turns on “Pack Up” and “Bad Day” and his high-density raps on “Love Me So Bad” and “The Last Trumpet” serve notice to a one-dimensional hip-hop landscape dominated by one-note pretenders that will be yesterday’s news tomorrow. In other words, unless his friends and neighbors turn bitch and completely bail on him, the hyperskilled Lyrics Born will be here later this day, that day or whatever day, until he’s too old to physically rhyme or sing anymore. In that, perhaps he can take some solace, dropping that “baggage” off at the door in the process.