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Lyrics Born

Born Again

With a career that spans more than fifteen years, East Bay rapper Lyrics Born is back this week with his most musically adventurous album to date. As You Were is a high-energy shot of electro-funk, and the latest in a progression of releases from Lyrics Born that strays beyond the safe confines of hip hop. He spoke with SF Station in a phone interview from a tour stop in Southern California.

SF Station (SFS): Do you get anxious during the final days before an album is released?

Lyrics Born (LB): I’m really happy that all the hard work that went into the album is behind me — at least as far as studio work is concerned. It’s really a relief in a lot of ways, and at the same time there is some anticipation and excitement about a new chapter and whole new batch of work that starts up again with touring.

It’s exciting also to be able to see with this album how my career and my art has progressed. After eight albums, there is a body of work there that I am extremely proud of. As You Were is no exception; it’s just a continuation of all that.

SFS: Did you approach As You Were as a hip-hop album?

LB: I didn’t, really. I think with this album, I didn’t care about my past successes, or writing hits. I didn’t care about people, or the industry, or the record label’s perception of me. The main thing that I wanted to do with this album is make pure, progressive art.

A lot of people wondered with the album title if I was going to go back to an old sound, but really the title comes from the past couple of years, which were chaotic not only for the world but also in my life. I had to tell myself, “As you were; just calm down and show up to work everyday.” I had to stay focused and committed because I really saw a lot of people panicking around me — especially a lot of artists. I didn’t want to get caught up in that.

SFS: What was chaotic for you on a personal level?

From a personal standpoint, it’s no secret that the world is going through a lot of issues and it’s melting down on a lot of levels. The music industry has been suffering for far longer than the rest of the world. When you take a look around, you see records stores, labels, distributors, clubs, and promoters going out of business. Genius artists have to go out and get day jobs to support their families.

It’s difficult to watch, and I started to experience some of the things that older artists told me about — the sort of transient nature of people in your life and the dark side of the business. Yet at the same time, I had some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I had a baby, and I was celebrating over 15 years in the game, and starting my own label. It was some very high highs and some very low lows.

I went through three labels in the past three years, and it was a musical chairs of personnel because everyone is so panicked. With songs like “Lies X 3,” that’s a song about really feeling betrayed on a very deep level, and “Pushed Aside/Pulled Apart” is about how people expect me or want me to be a certain way. “I’ve Lost Myself” is about succumbing to the trappings of success and perceived success. It got to the point over the last couple of years where I really didn’t like the person that I was becoming and I felt like I really had the potential to lose focus if I continued to envelop myself.

SFS: Those are some pretty heavy topics, but there are also a lot of funky party tracks on the album — maybe more so than with your other release. How has funk had an influence on you as a musician?

LB: Just coming from the Bay Area, funk is very prevalent, especially the past music — everyone from Sly Stone to Too Short, and now Lyrics Born. It’s a very funk-oriented area and I think that just rubbed off on me. Funk is one of the rare forms of music where you can mix being conscious, political, sexy, silly, serious, and tongue-in-cheek all in one song. That’s one of the things that is so special about funk.

SFS: What led to Lyrics Born the emcee shifting to Lyrics Born the bandleader with the live show you do now?

LB: That was always the goal, I just needed the means. Really, I got the idea from watching dancehall artists in the early 90s like Ninja Man and Shabba Ranks. When you hear their records, they are obviously very programmed. But seeing them live, there was always a band recreating the songs. That was really inspiring, along with James Brown, obviously, and Prince.

One of my first concerts in third of fourth grade was Prince, and I was just blown away by the shear spectacle of it. I knew that is what I wanted to incorporate with hip hop.

SFS: Has your time on the road with the band shaped what you do in the studio?

LB: With my last album, Everywhere at Once, my focus shifted from using samples to using live instruments. On As You Were, I took it even further. I wanted to go deeper and deeper into the production process.

If you listen to songs like “Coulda Woulda Shoulda” and “I’ve lost myself,” there’s an orchestra and a horn section. I also used the full band a lot of times instead of programmed beats with the band playing over it.

SFS: Vocally, you are also doing some things that are different from anything else we have heard from you. Did you ever feel out of your comfort zone?

LB: That’s the whole point. I try to push myself out of my comfort zone. With every album, there are songs that are well within my realm of capability that I pull off, then there are other songs where I try to push hard. The songs that I’m afraid of are usually the ones that end up being the best. But on this album, I wanted to go further because I felt like I was due to take a leap.

SFS: What’s the final goal for Lyrics Born?

LB: I want to continue to be artistic and expand the boundaries of art and music. I really want what I do to become more multi-dimensional, meaning not just about sounds but also more visually exciting and interesting.

At this point in my life, I have everything I need. What I want in life now, I just can’t buy. It’s about earning my place in history and cementing my legacy.

As You Were was released October 26th on Decon.