Lyrics Born Is 'Everywhere at Once' Lyrics Born is a Japanese-American musician making waves in the world of hip hop, by fusing funk, rock, and R&B. But he doesn't like to talk about his ethnic background — except in his songs. He talks with Farai Chideya about his music and new album.

Lyrics Born Is 'Everywhere at Once'

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(Soundbite of rap by Lyrics Born)

Mr. LYRICS BORN (Rapper): (Rapping) Now I don't care what they say about me Because rules were meant to be broken. That's why the world can't forget about me Because rules were meant to be broken.


The lyrics on his new album say don't change, but rapper Lyrics Born has kept his game on the move. He's done mix tape-style compilations and released his own albums and singles. Now the Bay Area stalwart's got a new album called "Everywhere At Once" and it brings elements of funk and R&B into the mix. Lyrics Born, thanks for coming on.

Mr. BORN: Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: So I understand you really launched into music when you were at the University of California, Davis. So when was that and who were you and what was it like?

Mr. BORN: Well you know, I'd been rapping for years. I mean, since grade school and so forth but I, you know, I really didn't make my professional outing until college. At that time we were just, you know, all hanging around at the college radio station, listening to music and writing songs and none of us had really released any albums yet. And it just dawned on us that, you know, given the state of the industry, if we weren't going to put out our records then our music would probably never get heard. And fast forward 10-plus years later this is it.

CHIDEYA: So what was it like performing for the first time in a venue, not in a dorm room, not just with your friends, where were you and what was that like?

Mr. BORN: I think the first, what I would consider the first show was - I was the very first act on a show at a club here in San Francisco called The Stone. And on that bill it was pretty amazing. I mean I was absolutely first in order on a bill of like …

CHIDEYA: Which is a blessing and a curse.

Mr. BORN: Yeah I mean on a bill of like 15 people. So I think at that time it was, oh man, it was Nas, Kool G Rap, The Far Side, Freestyle Fellowship, Souls of Mischief. Apache, Master A.

CHIDEYA: That's amazing.

Mr. BORN: I mean this gives you - I was like 18, you know what I mean. So it kind of gives you an idea of the time period. And I just remember I was a little nervous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of rap by Lyrics Born)

Mr. BORN: (Rapping) Every time that I get up on the microphone I got to dedicate a round to you girl, come on.

Mr. BORN: You know, being an independent artist my whole career, I always knew that the music that I was making had more scope and more potential than what the numbers suggested. It was just - it's always a question of opportunities.

(Soundbite of rap by Lyrics Born)

Mr. BORN: (Rapping) I don't care where you're from The first time that I saw you girl, you had me sprung. Just the way that my name rolls off your tongue Damn near knocked all the wind out my lungs Baby girl, you the one, you the maximum You got every man beggin' for scraps and crumbs I can't front, I want it all in one lump sum, but girl you got me sittin' on my hands and thumbs I ain't done Girl you got the magic touch You seen every man out here and passed him up, except one Baby girl that's what's up I can't wait for the day when we hangin' tough, I said... I'm not sure what you did to me, but I like it, I love it

CHIDEYA: So you worked with DJs and with a live band. You have a live band. So how did you put this album "Everywhere At Once" together? What was your process? I mean did you write first and then go in the studio? How did you collaborate?

Mr. BORN: Well I think as your career grows and, you know, the more albums you make, it becomes more and more challenging to venture into unchartered territory. It's like how can I, you know, I'm always asking myself the question, what am I going to do tomorrow? And I think going into this album, you know, I asked myself that same question and it was OK, the answer was I'm going to make this album more personal.

In other words I'm going to talk about - ask, you know, maybe some challenges and some victories that I've had in my life that maybe people didn't know about before. And then I'm also going to approach the production process differently. I'm not going to use samples which I had done for years. I'm just going to get in there with the band. You know we're going to replay everything. or we're going to create on the spot, really took a different approach to production on this album. Like I said, I mean, you know, it's important for me to stay continually challenged. Because I don't really feel like I can be inspiring if I'm not inspired and the only way that I can stay inspired is if I'm always being challenged.

CHIDEYA: You were born Tom Shimura in Tokyo, raised, you know a bunch of different places, and you used to go by the name Asia Born on stage. So when and why did you change your stage name?

Mr. BORN: I changed it in 1994 and really it was because what was happening was, I started getting a lot of press as being quote unquote, the Asian rapper, the Japanese rapper, the Asian one, the Japanese guy. You know and I think like most I think you people of color in this country, or just anybody in this country, we all want to be evaluated based on our merits, you know, and our skill. Especially when you're an artist you want to be evaluated based on your art. And I thought that, you know, being singled out in that way, I didn't think it was fair to us as a group and I didn't think it was fair to myself. And so, you know, I wanted to make albums where I would be evaluated as the artist. You know, nobody wants to be called the Asian actor or the Asian plumber, you know what I mean, or the Asian DJ. You're just a man, you're an artist.

(Soundbite of song "Is It the Skin I'm In?")

Mr. BORN: (Singing) Is it the skin that I'm in That rocks me to my soul?

CHIDEYA: You have one song, "Is It the Skin I'm In?" that talks a little bit about stereotyped preconceptions. Tell me a little bit about that one.

Mr. BORN: Well I think, you know, going back to what we were talking about before, it's like now here I am 10 years later in my career, I can talk about my challenges on my terms and constructively. Instead of - the thing that a lot of people don't realize is that, you know, at least for myself, throughout the course of my career, I've been called a million different things that I never came up with. And it goes back to what I was saying before. I really got a lot more personal on this album in a lot of different ways than I had in the past and on previous records. I get asked in interviews a lot, like what has it been like being Asian-American, being an Asian-American rapper, being an Asian-American MC. Being in the entertainment business as, you know, as an Asian-American. I get asked about it so much and it is such a part of my life that that's why I wrote the song, "Is It the Skin?"

CHIDEYA: I mean, how would you describe - you have a variety of sounds, a variety of approaches to DJ'ing and producing music. But it's not, you know, it's not the guy who's just in the cipher on the corner and it's not 50 Cent. So at least in terms of how you interact with your peers and the people who you are tight with, how would you describe who you are and then where you see the artistry going from here?

Mr. BORN: The interesting thing about hip-hop right now is, you know, you could ask 10 different people what hip-hop is and they'll give you 10 different answers, and they are all correct. That's the point in history that we're at right now. You know, hip-hop spans from, you know, from Atmosphere to Lyrics Born to Lil' John to 50 Cent to Eminem to Def Jux. It's a million different things to a million different people right now and I think it's just going to continue on, on all these various trajectories and it's continue to morph and blend and change. You know, that's just what it is. You know, it's almost like - you know, you look at rock now, I mean there's a million different kinds of rock, you know. And I think that that's, you know, that the direction that hip-hop is going in.

CHIDEYA: Well, Lyrics Born, thanks so much.

Mr. BORN: Thank you. My pleasure.

CHIDEYA: Rapper and producer Lyrics Born's new album is "Everywhere At Once." He joined us from the studios at UC Berkeley School of Journalism.

(Soundbite of rap by Lyrics Born)

Mr. BORN: (Rapping) I came a long way From eating off-brand rice I came a long way From writing fourth grade rhymes I came a long way To get my pay grade high Baby, you ain't never heard me come the same way twice.

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today. Thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our website, To join the conversation or sign up for our newsletter, visit our blog at News & Notes was created NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

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