South by Southwest: Born to ryhme live

AUSTIN, Texas – Bay Area hip-hop artist Lyrics Born embraces change. A gifted rapper with Japanese and Italian roots, Lyrics Born (whose real name is Tom Shimura) has seven albums to his name, not to mention numerous guest appearances, production spots and mix tapes. His latest project hits stores April 22, titled “Everywhere at Once,” and for the first time in his career features a live band in place of DJs and traditional hip-hop studio production.

“As you grow in your career, you really have to find new ways to stay inspired and stay challenged, and I think for me, this is just one other way to do that,” Lyrics Born said in an interview in the lobby of an Austin, Texas, hotel. “I had been making records the way that I had been – which is mostly sample-based – for years. So, for me, I needed a new challenge, and really that’s what it’s made me; it’s made me a better artist, it’s made me a better leader, it’s made me a better musician, it’s made me a better producer.”

With a full band in tow, including his wife Joyo Velarde on backup vocals, Lyrics Born has been constantly touring around the globe in anticipation of his new album. Already the new record has two hit singles, “I Like It, I Love It” and “Hott 2 Deff,” which features Jurassic 5’s Chali 2Na. Having just returned from Australia, he traveled to Texas to make a couple of performances at the annual South by Southwest music festival, during one of which he shared the stage with Talib Kweli and Ice Cube.

For his 1 a.m. performance at the Cedar Street Courtyard, the Lyrics Born band (drums, bass guitar, keyboards, electric guitar) kicked off the set with some introduction music as Lyrics Born and his wife Joyo walked on stage moments later to cheers from the crowd. While he performed some old songs to his fans’ delight, the evening was really all about the new material on the soon-to-be-released record, highlighting the live energy of the musicians on stage.

When asked about performing with a live band as opposed to a DJ, Lyrics Born said, “It’s more challenging, definitely. And there’s nothing wrong with performing with DJs – I still do perform with DJs on occasion- but I had done that for a long time, so this was just another way for me to grow.”

Through the use of his live band both on stage and on the new album, it is easy to hear the musical influences that have inspired his unique style of hip-hop, which is undoubtedly unlike anything heard today in mainstream hip-hop music. “I’m not very good at hiding my influences,” he said. “To be honest, hip-hop is probably the minority of (what I listen to.) I mean obviously it’s the music I make . I listen to a lot of old soul, a lot of reggae, a lot of rock – it goes on and on. If it’s got a beat, I’ll listen to it.”

In addition to the live band, Lyrics Born says that on the new album his raps have become more personal, giving his fans a glimpse into his life as an artist. “I never really talked a lot about who I am or my experiences, or some of the challenges and victories that I personally have had,” he said. “So I think on this album I wanted to do that because all of the artists I ever looked up to and admired, they all did that.”

“I listened to all the feedback and criticism that I had gotten over the years, and saw what it was that people tended to gravitate towards about what I did, and I just played to those strengths really,” he added. “It’s just finding new ways to do things and being able to stay inspired so I can in turn be inspiring.”

Watch The Hatchet’s video interview with Lyrics Born at SXSW on The Scene’s Backstage blog. Lyrics Born’s new album, “Everywhere at Once,” hits stores April 22 on Anti records.

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