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Monday, May 4, 2015

Premiere: Listen to Lyrics Born's New LP Real People

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2015 at 9:31 AM

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Bay Area hip-hop staple Lyrics Born’s eighth LP, Real People, is nothing like we’ve heard from him before. The man responsible for co-founding the storied Bay Area Quannum Collective traveled to New Orleans to produce and record his funkiest, most soulful — and perhaps most ambitious — effort to date.

Produced by Robert Mercurio and Ben Ellman of NOLA jazz-funk band Galactic, Real People features other Big Easy heavyweights including Trombone Shorty, Ivan Neville, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and more. “I’m really fortunate for the best in the city to come out for this album,” Born tells us.

Yet still leading the charge at every turn is the deep-voiced, Japanese-American, Berkeley-bred Lyrics Born, who boasts the distinctly articulate flow that’s carried him from hip-hop to funk (and back) during his 20-year career. SF Weekly has the pleasure of premiering Real People here on All Shook Down and recently talked to him about reppin’ the Bay Area while making a record in New Orleans.

The funkiness of Real People feels like it was bubbling up from you on earlier tracks like “I Like It, I Love it” and “Callin’ Out,” but you just went full New Orleans here. Was this all-out funky soul a long time coming for you?

I think so. There’s so much history there. I’m really proud of everything I’ve done with this being my 8th album, but it gets harder and harder every year to think of “What can I do next that I haven’t done yet?” What I do is very different than other people in the sense that I’m not looking for the next “hot/new group of producers” to do my album. That’s not what I do. I’m looking to make albums that don’t repeat themselves. I felt like Everywhere At Once and As You Were were my kind of my electro-funk, '80s/hip-hop and boogie inspired albums. So I did that, got it out of my system and in 2013 I did the Latyryx 2nd album. That was kinda experimental, lyrical, and conceptual. So I wanted to go back to something that was really organic and really funky, but in a way that I hadn't done it before.

So how did you connect with Galactic and were they a driving force to get you to do this album in New Orleans?

I’ve known Ben and Rob for close to 10 years. We’ve toured together, recorded together, worked together plenty of times and were just good friends. They’d really grown as producers over the years and I liked what they’d done on Trombone Shorty’s album, The Revivalists albums and I’d done some work on some of their past albums with Galactic, too. The tune we did a few years ago, called “What You Need” is one of my most requested songs. I felt like they kinda understood me as an artist because we’d known each other for so long and they knew my career, my history … they knew me personally. So I enlisted them to do this and I couldn’t ask for a better team.

The album opens with the title track, and it’s a head-turner for sure. I get “I’ll Be Around” vibes by the Spinners on it. A lot of amazing influences come through, from the Isley Brothers to the Fugees. Any specific artists that inspired the shift, the music, and the composition in general?

For me, I’m a huge Sly and the Family Stone fan, I’m also a really big Phil Johnson fan in terms of soul music. My musical and spiritual fathers are Curtis Mayfield and James Brown. But for the past four years and when I was down in New Orleans recording, I’d been just vibing really hard on brass bands. Rebirth, Soul Rebels, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who I was fortunate enough to work with on this album.

“Around The Bend” might be the smoothest track on the album. The backing vocal reminds me of the sample from the Fugees’ “Family Business” off The Score, but that’s Joyo Velarde, your wife, singing and she’s a constant on Lyrics Born records. What it's like having your wife working on the record with you? How’s that working relationship?

She sang on every record I’ve ever made since 1996. For me it’s just natural. I know that when we make an album, she’s gonna be on it. That’s how I approach records. I don’t know that I could do it without her to be honest with you, and I don’t know that I’d want to do it without her. She’s just such an integral part of our sound. And since she’s around me all the time, she knows what I’m into. There's a lot of non-verbal understanding there, when it comes time to make and record music, since we’re around each other so much.

The arrangement on “Around the Bend” came together really well. Who else is playing on that track?

It’s produced by Rob and Ben and has primarily other Galactic guys on it: Stanton Moore on drums. On horns it’s Ben Ellman and Adam Theis from the Jazz Mafia, the SF music collective. And Ivan Neville played keys on it.

It's a different track from the rest of the album for sure.

It is … and that’s the whole theme of Real People … Even though I’ve been in the music business my whole life, I never considered myself a celebrity. Even with all the special things I’ve been able to accomplish and experience, I’ve never considered myself more or less than the average working guy and its just what I happen to do. My path just happens to be unconventional. The whole album is just about having those kinds of aspirations, those kinds of dreams, those kinds of setbacks, those kinds of experiences. So like in the song “Real People” I talk about what it’s like to be new to this country, starting school for the first time, being different. In “Good Riddance” I talk about losing my job, losing popularity. And losing that purpose and having it taken from you. And then back to “Around The Bend” it’s like…”Ok…yea, we’ve made it. This is what our wanderlust brought to us…we have this little piece of land now that we have here that we can call our own. Like I say in the song: “It’s where we’ll plant our family tree.”

And then songs like “Second Act” are really about how when people think that when they hit 40 it’s the end of their lives and it’s not. I’m probably happier now than I’ve ever been. Being grown is just not a death sentence. And that’s what it’s all about. And then there’s good times songs like “Rock-Rock-Away” and “Sir Racha,” which to me is just a straight up rap song.

Speaking of "Sir Racha" — where does it rank on the hot sauce scale for you?

It’s at the top [laughs], somewhere between one and two.

[Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s Moment of Truth column, where Lyrics Born breaks down the best and worst hot sauces out there.]
You famously cancelled your tour back in '08 to campaign for Barack Obama. Are you still focusing on political activism at all?

Yeah. Real People was crowd-funded, and a portion of everybody’s contribution went to [anti-poverty organization] OXFAM. Particularly, OXFAM’s efforts in the gulf region in New Orleans. When I was down there, I was at an artist retreat and was so moved by the kind of work they were doing in NOLA and in the gulf. So I tried to think of a way of how I could help and have it make sense with this album, produced and recorded in NOLA. How can I give back to a city that’s given me so much?

What does it mean for you to represent the Bay Area musically when you go to New Orleans?

For me, I just don’t think my story could’ve happened anywhere but here. Particularly in the '90s, when I was coming up. I just don’t think it could’ve happened anywhere else. 'Cause whatever odd mix we have of culture, politics, ideology, music, arts, economics, weather [laughs], it’s just a very special place and it’s changed quite a bit over the past 20 years. But the Bay area is very unique, because you have the Bay Area and then you have California. It’s the same thing with NOLA, where you have NOLA and then you have Louisiana.

When I first started going to NOLA in the early '90s, I was familiar with the music from being a hardcore record collector and producer, so I was familiar with the music historically. But it wasn’t until I touched down and spent time there, that I was like, ”Ok, I get it, not only do I understand why the music sounds this way now, but a place as unique as this…I’m from the Bay!” I understood it. What people might think is crazy and weird, is just kinda normal to a kid who grew up in Berkeley in the '80s and '90s. I identify with the culture pretty quickly. 
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About The Author

Adrian Spinelli

Adrian Spinelli

Hip hop and sandwiches.


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