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His name is Lyrics Born, baby, and he truly means it. The rapper from Berkeley, Calif. comes to perform in several shows in Colorado in July and August. (Photo by Chris Tuite)


Face2Face with Lyrics Born

California-based hip-hop artist focuses on pushing the boundaries of hip-hop


Lyrics Born at the Mile High Music Festival
Date: July 17-18
Time: Lyrics Born 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on July 17
Place: Dick's Sporting Goods Park, 6000 Victory Way, Commerce City, 80022
Cost: $90/single-day ticket


Lyrics Born at Las Montanas, all ages
Date: Saturday, Aug. 22
Time: 9 p.m.
Place: Las Montanas, 100 Colorado Ave., Telluride
Cost: $15


Lyrics Born at three20south
Date: Tuesday, Aug. 25
Time: 8 p.m.
Place: three20south, 320 S. Main St., Breckenridge
Cost: $12 [buy tickets]


Lyrics Born at The Eldo, 21+
Date: Wednesday, Aug. 26
Time: 8 p.m.
Place: The Eldo Brewery and Taproom, 215 Elk Ave., Crested Butte, 81224
Cost: $18/advance; $20/day of show [buy tickets]


Lyrics Born at The Fox Theatre, all ages
Date: Friday, Aug. 28
Time: 9 p.m.
Place: The Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder, 8030
Cost: $16 ADV / $20 DOS + $2 for under 21 [buy tickets]
Lyrics Born at Cervante's, all ages
Date: Saturday, Aug. 29
Time: 8 p.m.
Place: Cervante’s Masterpiece Ballroom, 2637 Welton St., Denver, 80205
Cost: $18/advance; $20/day of show [buy tickets]

Lyrics Born marches to the sounds of his own beats.


Early in his career, he said, record labels didn’t want to sign him. They said he didn’t rap or sound like anybody else and his beats carried a heavier musical tone than most of his peers, but that’s exactly why he’s developed an immense following in the world of indie hip-hop.


“I feel that all those things I was once criticized for and all those things I took a lot of heat for in the beginning,” he said, “all of those things became assets.”


Born Tom Shimura, the rapper from Berkeley, Calif. uses a style that combines intricate lyrics that showcase his vast vocabulary laid on top of instrumental-heavy tracks that tie together sounds from funk and hip-hop. His live shows, he said, are like a big party.


“My main goal is just to have people lose their mind,” he said. I feel like if I’m not doing that, I’m not doing my job.


“My feeling is this – there’s a lot of s--- going on in the world and not all of it is good, and there are few places where you can go and literally lose it. I try to create an environment that allows you to do that.”


Recently Shimura released his latest mixtape, The Lyrics Born Variety Show Season Pho, a 22-track collection featuring remixes, mash-ups and a variety of guests, as well as a couple of songs from his upcoming studio album, As You Were.


“My whole thing is growth,” he said. “It’s not ‘92 anymore. It’s not even ‘02 anymore. We just need growth and I think that a lot of music in general is not as creative as it could be.”


Looking to push his music forward, Shimura said his new album – set for a first quarter 2010 release – is heavily inspired by music of the late ‘80s and ‘90s. He said he wanted to write something that is more experimental lyrically, and, of course, he brings the funk.


“I want to make an album that’s funky because I don’t feel like anyone else is propelling funk in any meaningful way,” he said.


Lyrics Born has come a long ways since The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” captured his attention and made him fall in love with hip-hop.


“It just clicked with me,” he said. “When I was in kindergarten, hearing ‘Rapper’s Delight’ for the first time, it was totally fresh, it was totally unique.


“It suddenly made everything I was listening to obsolete. And I felt I could do it.”


But it wasn’t until working at a college radio station at UC Davis when he and several friends came together to create a record label named Solesides.


“We were making music that was not signable because it just wasn’t what everyone else was doing,” he said. “It was more out of necessity that we were making our own records than it was we wanted to have our own business or our own company.”


Back then, Shimura went by the moniker “Asia Born” but quickly discovered that his name caused people to focus on his ethnicity rather than his musical merits. He said he was afraid of being seen as just a gimmick rather than an artist.


“It wasn’t really fair to the music, it wasn’t really fair to all of us (Asian Americans) as a group because it was assumed that we’re all the same and we’re not,” he said.


While he built his reputation and fanbase over the years as Lyrics Born, he said that his ethnicity was something that was still often brought up in interviews. So on his last album, Everywhere At Once, he addressed this issue in songs such as “Rules Were Meant To Be Broken” and “Is It The Skin I’m In?”


“Now I can talk about it on my records on my terms because I already established myself as an artist,” he said. “ ... People need to hear it. I got asked about it so much, it was clearly something that people wanted to know about me and I’m not the only one, so if I talk about it, it adds dimension to who we are in the public mind.”


But, ultimately, it’s his music that he wants people to focus on.


“And that’s what I try to do is just push it (the music) forward,” he said. “Always, always, always pushing it forward.”


For more information on Lyrics Born, go to www.lyricsborn.com.

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