Lyrics Born knows a thing or two about melting pots. Born in Tokyo, the East Bay MC came to prominence in a largely black hip-hop culture as one-half of the duo Latyrx, which played nearly every small club in the multicultural Bay Area in the late 1990s.
So when it came time to record his eighth album, Real People, he headed to another melting pot: New Orleans. Produced by Robert Mercurio and Ben Ellman from the band Galactic, the album bubbles with flavors from the Big Easy. A heavy backbeat-and-brass vibe runs throughout the 13 tracks, and Trombone Shorty, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Corey Glover and Ivan Neville guest on the album.
“New Orleans has a cultural history that's different than any other city in America,” the singer told KQED when we caught up with him recently at a studio in East Oakland. “Coming from the Bay Area – where we sort of live in this confluence of strange politics and ideologies, you know, this weird cultural swirl – the first time I went to New Orleans, I was like, 'Oh yeah, home.'”
Watch Lyrics Born and his band perform “Rock-Rock-Away” from Real People for KQED above, and read more about the album and song below. Look for a second KQED video -- of the album's title track, "Real People" -- tomorrow.
What inspired you to record 'Real People' in New Orleans?
I wanted to do something that was really funky and organic sounding -- in a way that I hadn't done it before. You know, when you've been making records for 20 years -- this is my eighth album – the challenge is always, “How do I do something that I haven't done before?”
And, for this album, it's just something that felt natural to me. New Orleans is one of those special places where you have New Orleans, and then you have Louisiana. Much like you have the Bay Area, and then you have California. And you know, its probably one of the true first and last, perhaps, music towns. Where you can go and hear music every night of the week that's specific to New Orleans. Every night of the week, someplace, somewhere, there are reputable, highly regarded, skilled musicians, rappers, DJs, bands playing every night of the week.
“Rock-Rock-Away” is your classic Lyrics Born-style love song -- it could almost be “Lady Don't Tek No" Part II.
With "Rock-Rock-Away," one of the things I heard once, and it always stuck with me, was Ray Charles said, “If you want to make a good song that will live forever, you have to praise the woman.” And so when the veterans speak, I always listen. When you talk about songs like “Lady Don't Tek No” or “I Like It, I Love It,” that's important to know as an artist.
What we do is not taught in school. You can't take rap lessons in the same way you can take guitar lessons. And songwriting is an art that's mostly passed down from artists to artists. You kinda learn on the job; there's no formal training.
You've been in the game 20 years now. Do you consider yourself lucky?
I'm extremely fortunate. It's probably one of the most hostile businesses that there are. One thing I have been very fortunate for is I've been extremely blessed to stay curious. I've always wanted to try new things. For me, as an artist, it's impossible to quell new things. I just can't suppress it. That was always the goal, to have a long career, one that had some kind of impact on history and people's lives. I don't know if I'm quite there yet, but I definitely feel at this stage, I've made some headway.
To me, this is a lifelong endeavor. This is a lifelong pursuit. Whether I sell one record or one million, it's etched in stone for me.
About this Series: KQED Main Stage brings art in performance — dance, drama and music – to Web audiences via short-form video.