Berkeley, California's Lyrics Born, a member of the Quannum collective with DJ Shadow and Blackalicious, has been ignoring hip-hop formulas for more than a decade. Now, finally, comes his solo debut. Worth the wait? Yup.
Musically Lyrics Born and his crew bring it from the P-Funk side. Funk plunks; Donald Byrd and early Kool & the Gang riff thefts; and reggae runnings caress your ears while his words work your mind. As always he mixes his flow up, vocally shifting from tongue-twistingly fast to slow and conversational. Meanwhile he posits his concepts at the center of his songs: "Cold Call" is a bust on telemarketers with guest rapper Gift of Gab, "Before And After" is about friends growing apart, and "Bad Dreams" is an apocalyptic groover. The goofy, less conceptual tracks like "Callin' Out" and "Stop Complaining" work just as well.
It's all fun and games when the album reaches a crescendo in "The Last Trumpet." Operatic, dramatic, and powerful, it finds him and old pal Lateef trading urgent verses like "The only action/We can profit from/Is movement towards/The positive/Progressive thought/That's rooted up/In consciousness" at breakneck pace. It's a chilling cut, one of the most powerful of the year.
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Lyrics Born takes common elements and ideas, makes them into something meaningful, and then gives them back to you. That's his definition of art, and you can dance to it, too.