Lyrics Born | As You Were (Decon Records)

Though the genre pops up as "rap" when you open the album in iTunes, this is an album that defies categorization, which is high praise in my book.


Lyrics Born is the MC handle of Tsutomu “Tom” Shimura. A founding member of the Bay Area hip hop label Quannum Projects, along with DJ Shadow, Latyrix and the members of the group Blackalicious, Lyrics Born has been involved with hip hop since the early 1990s.

As You Were, Shimura’s latest release, is equal parts synthesizer pop and hip hop, with a little stadium rock sprinkled in for good measure. Though the genre pops up as Rap when you open the album in iTunes, this is an album that defies categorization, which is high praise in my book. While the CD cover has animated artwork, and the album itself contains other hip hop conventions like skits and call and response chants, this album is best described as diverse.

As You Were
kicks off with Lyrics Born paying homage to Prince and Rick James with a couple of synthesizer-heavy funk tunes, “Kontrol Freak” and “I Wanna Be W/U.” Lyrics Born’s sidekick rapper in the duo Latyrix, Lateef the Truthspeaker, makes an appearance on the second track. Other Quannum artists, such as Sam Sparro, Joyo Velarde and the Gift of Gab, also make cameos on the album. In addition, Galactic drummer Stanton Moore sits in on the drums for several tracks, further contributing to the contemporary funk sound.

After the old school funk beginning, the album moves into more standard hip hop, with Shimura working some “Em-singing” (he coined the term) into the lyrics. He is not rapping, per se, but it’s difficult to call what he does singing; hence the hybrid term.

Moving to the last five songs on the CD, we come across the track “I’m the Best(Funky Fresh in the Flesh),” which is part rock anthem, part hip hop jam. The energy peaks on this song, and you will find it difficult to listen to it just once. Later, on the most lyrically complex song on the album, Gift of Gab displays his prodigious linguistic gifts on “Pillz.” Combine intense beats with intellectual commentary on our current obsession with pharmaceuticals, and the result is perhaps the best track on the album.

All in all, the album rewards a listen or three, which may be what it takes to come to grips with all of the genres represented. If you are coming to As You Were from the previous work of Lyrics Born, know that you are in for a wild ride through musical genres. If you are new to his music, you will be no less impressed for the sheer talent displayed on the album. | Stephen Fairbanks

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