a hip-hop mainstay and leading voice for progressive music of all kinds, Bay Area-based
has been pumping out some of the most cutting-edge urban music for over a decade.
Started as a collaboration between several talented friends brought together by
a common love for hip-hop culture, Quannum’s roster includes influential artists
like DJ Shadow, Blackalicious,
Lifesavas, and legendary
underground duo Latyrx.
As one half of Latyrx (along with Lateef the Truth Speaker), Lyrics
Born was one of the original architects of the Quannum phenomenon since
its inception. Recently LB took a step up and released his own solo project,
the bombastic, fantastically diverse Later
That Day. Sporting LB’s raucous, singsong flow and a host of live musicians
and vocalists, Later is a hip-hop tour de force that gives a nod to the
old school while skipping to the head of the class. After a successful tour
in support of the album, Lyrics Born took some time to talk with JamBase about
his solo work, his musical influences, the current condition of hip-hop, and
the state of the world today.
Kayceman: I wanted to start by going back to 1990 at University of California
where you linked up with your crew. Do you think that was a coincidence or some
type of destiny that such an instrumental group of people were all at the same
place at the same time?
Lyrics Born + Lateef The Truth Speaker
Photo courtesy of solesides.com
LB: I definitely think it was destiny. It's just too much. It kind of made
me stop believing in coincidence, you know what I mean? It was definitely meant
to be. When you look at how it was and how it is now, it altered all of our
lives so drastically and dramatically.
Kayceman: What led y’all to change the name from Solesides to Quannum?
LB: Well, one of the original members of Solesides left, DJ Zen. And
he was such a huge part of what it was that we had created that it really didn’t
feel right to any of us to move on with the name without him. So we kinda felt
like we had to change the name just so we could sort of move on without Jeff,
move into a different era.
And why Quannum?
LB: Well the word quantum, Chief Xcel came up with it, it means transference of energy from one source to another, which is what we were doing. But we didn’t want it to sound like the company, so we changed it to Quannum.
Cool. What was the first record that blew your mind?
I would have to say The Message, Melle Mel.
And what was the last record to do that?
Oh man that’s tough. That’s hard man… you’d have to give me some more time on that.
No problem. Moving to Later That Day, it's obviously somewhat of a concept album. Can you tell me what the overall goal or original idea for it was?
I was trying to do was make an album that was challenging, yet extremely entertaining.
That had its very emotional moments, but also had its very kind of lighthearted
moments. And basically I was trying to convey a spectrum of feelings and attitudes,
and subject matter. And that's hard to do these days - it's difficult. It's
difficult because it's hard to make an album interesting and entertaining these
days when there's only one guy on the whole thing. I knew that I wanted to do
a lot of different types of songs in terms of… a lot of different deliveries
and a lot of different styles. I knew I wanted the album to have a lot of variety.
Then knowing that the challenge is, how do I make an entire album like that
and have it be cohesive from song to song? The only way I could think about
doing that was if I tried to come up with a concept. I came up with Later
That Day because I wanted the album to have progression, and be able to
have this kind of variety throughout and be able to tie it all in. I figured
well, if you think about your life, the concept of "a day" in your
life, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep... At least in the
case of my album, it starts late last night with "Bad Dreams" and
then it ends late tonight with "The Outro." If you think about how
you feel throughout the course of a day, what your mind is focused on, your
emotions change depending on what your activities are throughout the day. Obviously
the daylight changes, it comes and it goes, so things can change throughout
the day and yet it's still part of this cycle. So I don't know if I quite hit
it on the head, but that's what I tried to do.
And what was the production process like for that album?
varied. Most of the time I would start out with a sample. I'd start off the
way I've always made music, but I think how it differed here was that I worked
with a lot of live musicians. I worked with the Poets of Rhythm, I worked
with Tommy Guerrero,
I worked with a lot of singers on this one. Not too many producers, but I definitely
worked with a lot of musicians. That is generally how things got going, I would
start with the sample… because I figure I'm a hip-hop producer at heart, the
school that I came from and the style that I like the most comes from digging,
digging for records. So that's where most things started from, not everything,
but songs like "Hello" and "One Session" were done almost
entirely with musicians, but for the most part I would start off with the sample
and get as far as I could with samples and the sampler and then fill in the
blanks with the musicians.
And what kind of gear do you use when you’re producing?
ProTools, and I have a few keyboards, I have my MPC, some outboard gear. I do most everything at home and produce 90% at my home studio and mix elsewhere.
Did you have anything to do with the cover design, which is absolutely amazing?
Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists
Yeah, right on, I totally did. I told Brent Rollins, who's an absolute
genius, he did a lot of the Quanum stuff in the past, he did Spectrum and Solesides,
all the Blackalicious stuff, all the Latyrx stuff, he did both Ego Trip
books. Basically the concept that I wanted was that it had to be lively, there
had to be a lot of different kinds of people just like there are a lot of different
kinds of songs on the album. And if you open it up it starts in the daytime
and ends in the night, that was the whole concept. Hopefully it matches the
music. It’s life really, throughout the day.
Seeing as how Later That Day hits on so many areas of music, I’d
like to name a few genres and if you could respond with a musician or band that
has been particularly influential to you from that genre. Rock?
Lyrics Born & Joyo Velarde in Boulder
Photo courtesy of solesides.com
Ohhh shit, there's too many.
I can't argue with that. Now at the beginning of the album, in "Bad
Dreams," there's a voice that says, "They said I'd never learn
to be anything I wanted to be." Is that reference to your own life?
Who in particular?
Oh shit. Not really family. But I've had teachers tell me, "What the
hell? A Japanese rapper, that'll be the day.” Oh yeah, I heard that quite a
bit growing up.
On "Cold Call," the "You’re an asshole" part--to
me that screams Frank Zappa. Have you ever considered that?
You know, not even necessarily with "Cold Call," but from time to
time people have told me--I've never really listened to Frank Zappa to be honest--but
from time to time people have told me that it reminds them of that.
Yeah just that kinda comic relief shit screams that to me. Also on "Nightro"
you have the sample, "You have done a magnificent job by staying at
home to record and produce your album, this could be an inspiration," etc…
Again, is that a reference to anything or anyone in particular?
Well I did the album almost entirely at home.
So just commenting on that...
It's just funny how you find these samples and they work.
Have you done anything to develop your breath control, and ability to go
so hard for so long?
Joyo Velarde :: Quannum Tour 2004
Photo by Kris Bugbee
courtesy of solesides.com
Just on your own, or did you go to a teacher or anything?
Well Joyo Velarde helped me out a lot. She’s a trained singer, and she taught me how to breathe.
It seems kind of rare; I don’t see that in a lot of hip-hop artists.
Well, like I said, I grew up listening to like Boogie Down Productions and
I would see these guys perform and they would go for hours, RUN D.M.C. and so
forth. These days it's coming back a little bit I guess. But the focus is not
really on touring and concerts for a lot of hip-hop artists these days. So I'm
just glad I grew up in the era that I did.
So am I.
You take a look around and you see people like Buju
[Banton], The Roots,
these guys can really go. And I need to be seen in that light, so every time
we do a show, or do a concert I'm really pushing it.
And how do you go about preparing for a tour?
We usually do some rehearsals before we go out.
Just get together and tighten it up?
Yeah, just tighten it up a little bit and get on the road. But it's different,
a lot of times we have a loose structure of what we are going to do. But depending
on if we've been to that city before, or depending on what the crowd is like
you kinda have to read them and see what they would be into and what they're
not. Or what would work better than the other, and you make adjustments just
prior, or during the show based on how you’re feeling and how the crowd is interacting