Rapper Tsutomu Shimura, better known as Lyrics Born, has been recording and performing for over 25 years, consistently pushing the boundaries of his craft while retaining an eclectic musical style.
From his Quannum Projects debut with Latyrx (1997’s classic “The Album”) to 2003’s critically acclaimed solo album “Later That Day,” to his upcoming record “Vision Board”, the self-proclaimed “funkiest rapper alive” continues to seamlessly weave funk and soul into classic hip-hop.
Shimura has obliterated the stereotypes of what an MC is “supposed to” look like: He is the only Asian-American MC to release 10 studio albums and the first to play major music festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza.
In advance of his show on Friday, Oct. 28, at the Mangy Moose in Teton Village (with support from yours truly, KnewJack), Lyrics Born joined us over the phone for an interview.
This conversation was recorded on Wednesday, Oct. 26.
JACK CATLIN/KHOL: You’ve always combined a funk aesthetic in both your rapping and the beats that you choose to rhyme over. What attracts you so much to the funky side of life?
LYRICS BORN: One thing that’s unique about funk is that it really has a “come as you are” attitude about it and the ability to just sort of put yourself on display without inhibition or shame. I mean, I think that really has always spoken to me, to do it in a way that has a groove and a beat. And the thing about funk is it’s so multi-layered. You know, there’s history, music, artistic, social, political, and humorous notes. They’re all there, they’re all woven in. So it’s very multi-layered and it’s a little crazy and fun, you know what I mean?
KHOL: Your new album, ‘Vision Board,’ is being released on Nov. 11. Can you walk us through the recording process on this one and tell us what sets it apart from your previous records?
LYRICS BORN: This is the third album that Rob Mercurio of Galactic has co-produced [for me]. For this one, I recorded all the vocals and all the music was recorded, I’d say probably 95% of it, in New Orleans. That was definitely an experience, and I really had a lot of fun recording this. Really, to me, it’s supposed to be a fantastic ride. It was written and recorded largely during quarantine. So there were two things going on with me in quarantine. One, I was having to sit with a lot of thoughts and feelings that I finally had the time to do so. You know, when you’re in quarantine and you’re isolated and you’re stationary, you have no choice but to be one with your thoughts and emotions. And I think everybody went through that.
So part of ‘Vision Board’ is me speaking to and addressing those themes. Songs like, ‘Who’s the best? (Dear Young LB)’ or ‘Greatness on Repeat’ or ‘My Favorite Ghost.’ But then there’s another part to being in quarantine, all the isolation and all the difficulty and, frankly, trauma around quarantine and lockdown really made me want to create a portal where I could just escape and just be in a totally different stratosphere or totally different dimension. And that’s where a lot of the ‘phantasmic,’ psychedelic songs came from. Songs like ‘Alligator Boots’ or the imagery and the wordplay and metaphors on ‘Diamond Door.’
KHOL: So you are a major representative for Asian-American artists. In fact, you’re the only Asian-American MC to release 10 studio albums and the first to play major music festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza. Can you touch on the importance of that and how crucial it is to be an inspiration to those younger artists coming up behind you?
LYRICS BORN: It’s everything to me. And I think what’s really important is that there was no Lyrics Born when I was growing up, there was no Dumbfounded. There was no Randall Park, there was no Ali Wong, there was no Dan the Automator or Q-bert. Those guys didn’t exist. So for me to be able to occupy that space and show the men and women coming up behind me that it is entirely possible to have a career in showbiz, which is also another metaphor for the ability to achieve the dream that you want. I think that’s really what I hope my legacy will be.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Lyrics Born.