Lyrics Born

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Lyrics Born changes sound and his attitude on latest release, As U Were

:: Lyrics Born ::
:: Abbey Theatre :: January 14 ::
::  The Llama :: January 15 ::
:: three20south :: January 16 ::

Jan 17 - Steamboat Springs, CO - The Old Town Pub (Just added)
Jan 20 - Vail, CO - Checkpoint Charlie (Just added)
::  Oriental Theatre :: January 21 ::
:: Hodi’s Half Note :: January  22 ::

By Brian F. Johnson

Lyrics Born’s latest CD As You Were had a review by the forever-finicky Pop Matters that started out, “God bless Lyrics Born.”

There’s a million artists who would absolutely kill for that kind of adoration, but Tsutomu “Tom” Shimura, who’s known better as “LB” or “Lyrics Born,” has seen the dark side of being adored, and these days he takes those reviews, good or bad, with much more than a few grains of salt.

His newest album, released just before Halloween, 2010, As U Were, in fact, features a song that’s probably the closest thing to a ballad that LB has ever written, called “I’ve Lost Myself.” The track features a haunting chorus, performed by longtime collaborator and trained opera singer Joyo Velarde, that says, “I’ve lost myself. My spirit’s getting weaker, disappearing in the mirror. I’ve lost myself. I’m falling from my calling. I’m fading fast.”

Shimura doesn’t hide the fact that the track is autobiographical, and actually said it was that song that helped to be the cathartic turning point, away from that trajectory. “From like 1999 to 2005, 2006,  I was like the darling of the press — I could do no wrong. And to be really honest, a lot of that went to my head. One day I woke up and I was like, ‘My god, I’m exactly the type of dude that I didn’t want to be, or I was at least on that projection, but I could see myself laying the foundation for all of those horror stories that you hear,” Shimura said in a recent interview with The Marquee. “Putting that song down, was kind of a way of shaking myself. It was a combination of the most exhilarating, dark and self-indulgent bad time of my life.”

As the song explains, there’s “temptation everywhere” whether it’s in the form of hot chicks with white powders, or people offering massive amounts of cash to sell out in one way or another. “Even when I was going through all of that stuff, I had this voice inside my head saying, ‘Oh, you really shouldn’t be doing this,’ and thank God that that voice was able to win over the external voices,” said Shimura.

That theme continues on other tracks on the album, including the 1970s disco-laden “Kontrol Phreak,” “Coulda Woulda Shoulda” and “Pushed Aside/ Pulled Apart,” among others, but while the subject matter might be related, the overall feel of As U Were is very different than other Lyrics Born albums before, and Shimura said that was a very conscious choice. “To be honest, I’ve gotten really bored with hip-hop, as an artist and as a musician. So I really wanted to change my sound. The whole purpose of As U Were was to stay focused on making my lifelong mantra, which is to make the best possible art that I can. And changing my sound was important because to me, that’s the best thing about great art, is that over time you see a progression,” he said.

Part of that progression, as well, has also come in a label change for Shimura. In 1992, he along with DJ Shadow, Chief Xcel, Gift of Gab and Lateef, founded the hip-hop collective and record label Quannum Projects in the San Francisco Bay Area.  But recently, mostly due to the fact that he’s on the road an average of 200 days a year, Shimura stepped away from Quannum Projects, and he’s released As U Were on Decon Records. “It just became too much for me. I was spending that much time on the road and putting out an album every eighteen months. I couldn’t do that and do a good job for Quannum. It was something I wasn’t doing successfully and my whole take is if I can’t do something 100 percent, I shouldn’t do it. If I couldn’t do these things for these guys, label-wise, I would just rather not be present. So, I’m no longer involved with the label, except maybe in a spiritual perspective, but we’re all still friends, we all still work together, we all make music together. It’s just that part of it was something that I was no longer able to pull off successfully, and it was a very, very difficult decision,” Shimura said.

Still, the MC has found the time for a few other projects that show his diversity as an artist. In 2008, Shimura became the voice-over announcer for Cartoon Network’s “You Are Here.” He currently voices “bumpers” for “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Batman,” among others, for the network.

Lyrics Born may have never had anything close to Rolling Stones-style fame, but nonetheless the ride of being in the public eye has already cut some deep wounds into the 38-year-old’s psyche. But as lots of folks are hoping, 2011 could be a rebuilding year for many, and Shimura is already heading down that path — all the while holding out As U Were as a sign that he’s chosen to restore, at least his own, sanity.

:: Lyrics Born ::

:: Abbey Theatre :: January 14 ::

:: The Llama :: January 15 ::

:: three20south :: January 16 ::

:: Oriental Theatre :: January 21 ::

:: Hodi’s Half Note :: January 22 ::

Recommended if you Like:

• Heiroglyphics

• Gift of Gab

• Gil Scott-Heron

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