Lyrics Born finally finds the right groove on his latest album, ‘Real People’
A couple of weeks ago, I watched Blackalicious perform an exciting set at Sacramento’s Concert in the Park. I’ve also seen DJ Shadow perform live, a couple of years ago at Live 105’s BFD, where he confused the audience with his schizophrenic, jarring song choices.
These artists started out around the same time as Lyrics Born, all of them part of the progressive Solesides label in Davis. Watching both Blackalicious and DJ Shadow, I could feel their commitment to their art, and their drive to create something unique in hip-hop. I’ve never seen Lyrics Born, but I always felt he never quite reached the heights of his Solesides mates—despite the fact that, thanks to the 2003 single “Callin’ Out,” he’s gotten more attention.
But after just one listen to Real People, Lyrics Born’s newest record, I’m rethinking my stance. This record, his first solo venture since 2010’s As U Were, is a lively, popping album. The music is energetic and uplifting, right there with his bubbling flow—in fact, it surpasses it on several occasions. As much as I hate the cliché, there’s no better way to describe it than “party music”; I imagine this record blaring out of giant outside speakers and everyone in the neighborhood cutting a rug.
Oddly, Lyrics Born has been promoting this record as his darkest and most emotionally honest. “I talk a lot of foolish shit and cuss my ass off and explore my darker side on certain songs,” he said upon the album’s release. “Hopefully we get a good cross-section of ourselves to explore on this album.”
It’s true that he touches on topics such as divorce, the recession, and being generally down and out, but the music in no way evokes any of this despair. If I didn’t speak a word of English, I would assume this was the feel-good album of the year.
There are incredible elements to this record. The music is dazzling, particularly on the front half of the album. Lyrics Born recorded it in New Orleans with Galactic’s Ben Ellman in the producer’s chair. Members of Galactic had a big hand in performing the backing music, as did other New Orleans greats like Trombone Shorty, Ivan Neville, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. They’ve done an excellent job of mixing the various subgenres of New Orleans music (funk, bounce, jazz) into a single cohesive and lively dance album.
Lyrics Born, for his part, attacks the verses like never before. The line separating his singing and rapping is blurrier than ever. Unlike his droning, sing-songy flow on “Callin’ Out,” he sounds passionate and animated in every verse. Gift of Gab, emcee of Blackalicious, told me once in an interview that he viewed being an emcee as playing an instrument, and that he “jams” with the DJ the way two jazz musicians might riff off of one another. This attitude must have rubbed off on Lyrics Born. He seems tuned in to the spontaneity of the band, inspired to spit back exciting verses in response to their playing.
This brings us back to the lyrics, by far the weakest element of the album. There’s the song “Good Riddance,” a story from the perspective of a man that’s losing his job, and is thinking about “going back to the office to do something that I will regret.” The track “Holy Matrimony” plays off the tired trope of a man getting married to a wonderful woman, who has to deal with her crazy mom. I have a different idea than Lyrics Born of what constitutes dark and honest. If anything, these stories seemed contrived.
Even the lyrics on the title track, which I kind of like, are actually fairly dumb if you think about them too much. The chorus, “real people do real things/real people live real lives,” sounds like it means something, but does it?
I say forget about the words—even if the emcee in question does have the word “Lyrics” right in his name. This is a fun, popping record, and I’ll bet it’s great material to see live.
INFO: 9 p.m. on June 12, Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $15/Adv, $20/Door. 479-1854.