Remixing The Industry, Part 3 11.05.09: Lyrics Born
Another Hip-Hop artist that fans have gotten behind is Tom Shimura – known to a wide audience as Lyrics Born. Yes, we have to say “Hip-Hop” here. Not due to a contractual thing or threat of death or anything – simply because “L-Beezies” is about much more than just rap.
Sure, he can flow as good as any emcee out there. Better than most, really – he can tear your ass up if you’re not careful. Outside of that, though, he can be funky enough to light up a party in a heartbeat. And did we mention that he can sing, too?
In an exclusive interview recently conducted with 411 Music, Lyrics Born clarifies that this is a lifelong pursuit. “I think from a very early age, I think I knew I always wanted to be some sort of artist or some sort of performer. It wasn’t until I first heard Hip-Hop that I knew what type of artist or what type of performer I wanted to be. I think, once I heard it, I got into it. And then Hip-Hop, in turn, got me into all these other kinds of music.”
And a hell of a performer he’s become. Not a single crack or falter in his voice. He didn’t even cheat by changing the key of the song. And, as you can see by rolling with a live band, there are no pre-programmed beats or tracks to be had. Not many in today’s fast-food Hip-Hop culture can go out on stage and kill with no safety nets or crutches.
In talking about the live band, Lyrics Born seems even ballsier. “Well, mostly because I wanted to grow. It was never my goal to be just a Hip-Hop artist. At that time, the confines of the genre were pretty much dictated by sample use. If we’re gonna move forward and I’m gonna grow and move my music forward – as well as the music forward in general – then I just have to get beyond those limitations. That’s what made me get into music was live musicians, both on the road and in the studio.”
Outside of The Roots – another Hip-Hop act that’s made its name on ability, ardor, and an adventurous approach to the genre – there is virtually no one in Hip-Hop that crumples up the antiquated mindset of what’s “expected” and throws it in the trash like Lyrics Born. Race not even being an issue, his music is simultaneously loose in its feel and tight in its construction. He can – and does – cover just about any subject matter you can think of, including love. It’s not all an act (unlike even so many R&B singers) or a shallow attempt to look like a well-rounded performer. He actually is one.
You’d better believe that same mindset that permeates his music also presents itself in his business sense. Looking at YouTube channel, scrolling down the About Me section on the left-hand side is the following: Lyrics Born has been one of the most licensed hip-hop artists in the world, with placements on Diet Coke, Motorola, Nokia, and Vans commercials, TV shows such as “Entourage”, “Six Feet Under”, “What About Brian”, “Gossip Girl”, and “Gilmore Girls”, films like Michael Mann’s “Collateral” and Justin Lin’s “Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift”, and videogames by EA Sports, 2K Sports and Atari. He has had sponsorships with Puma, Adidas, Diesel, and Evisu. Certainly sounds like any other Hip-Hop artist out there – except when you realize that Lyrics Born did that all on his own. No label, no middle-man negotiating all this for him, just him. Having that kind of control, he feels, is vital not just to his career, but his situation as an artist in the world of the web 2.0. “I’ve supervised, ‘A&R’-ed, and executive produced every album I’ve ever done. The people I work with trust me enough to do so,” he proclaims.
With Lyrics Born, however, the question of whether or not he’s with a major label is a moot point. What matters is how he’s presented and being able to be the performer he wants to be. “You know, I never cared if I was independent or on a major [label] or…none of that ever mattered to me, as long as I can make the records I want to make,” he declares. “If a major label came along and said, “Hey, we want you to sign this deal”, my first question is, “okay, but can I still make the record I want to make?” If they said that was cool, then okay, I’m down. And if an indie did the same thing, I would say the same thing to them.”
Fortunately for him – and so many others that are able to see the power of immediately dispersing information to the entire world with just one click – he has no need to even entertain the idea. “I think we live in a great time right now where artists have that choice if they so choose to. With the way the internet is now, if you want to self-release your own music, you don’t need the labels anymore. It used to be that the labels held the keys and were the gateway to your dreams, but it’s not that way anymore. You can self-distribute. There are companies out there that will distribute your music for you, as-is. It’s not the same as it once was; the companies don’t have that kind of control anymore like they once did.”
Lyrics Born continues, “The internet is great; it’s a powerful tool. I’m just trying to harness it and be able to use it to express my passion and what I’m about and my story. It’s just my point – all these tools, all these things are available to all of us. I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”
Taking advantage of the internet is something Lyrics Born has excelled at almost as well being an exemplary performer. The latest example is his LBFM player on his website. A media player, according to LB, features not just his own music but the music that influenced him to do this sort of thing himself. Not many people take that extra step, but it should be clear by now that Lyrics Born isn’t “many people”.
As his latest album, Everywhere At Once still going strong, Lyrics Born has two singles from his new album already making rotation. LB even gave us a quick progress about As U Were: “I’m almost done; we’re looking at a first-quarter release in 2010. Right now, I have about 12 songs mixed; I’ll probably do a few more and then we’ll take it from there.”
With his music about to shine once again and his voice being heard in other places (like Cartoon Network’s Friday night block, “You Are Here!”), Lyrics Born shines like few others. Paralleling the few in his category, though, he does it with heart and proficiency instead of hiding behind a corporate machine that excels in disguising the weaknesses of its artists (which can hit astronomical numbers if hearing the radio is any indication). It’s actually refreshing to know that the corporate machine hasn’t gotten a hold of him and tried to ruin what he does best. Our final example lived through that very tale and lived to fight another day – as well as pioneering this entire movement as a defiant response to a debilitating system.
Special Thanks to Justin Berger and Grimmy Acosta for their help in putting this feature together.