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
Have you seen a live show recently that has really blown you away?
Wow… I liked the last Blackalicious show I saw, that was really incredible.
You know I've been on the road so much my damn self I haven't seen a lot. I'm
on the road a lot, like seven or eight months a year, and when I get home the
last place I'm trying to be is at the club.
I feel that. Now I work for JamBase which is sort of a rock-based website
- you know, mostly white kids who are just learning about hip-hop (if we’re
lucky) - and I’m curious how you feel about that audience embracing your music.
Well you know, I love it. As a musician you want as many people as possible
to embrace your music. I would love to have equal amounts of everybody in the
world coming to the shows and embracing the music. I think it's just a beautiful
thing when you're out there playing--and I'm still kinda stunned that people
will actually pay me to play. It's pretty amazing, and that it keeps growing,
I love it.
So I would assume that you would have interest in performing for that demographic at summer festivals?
Absolutely. I really think the true test of the artist and performer is to be able to win over and connect with any crowd.
I couldn’t agree more.
And I think very few artists are able to do that. You know Prince
can do it, James Brown
can do it, Jurassic
5 can do that. If you connect with all these people and all you're doing
is just being you, that's an amazing statement.
Do you think hip-hop is politically active enough?
I think it is, but I think the stuff that really has a voice is not heard in the
mainstream. A lot of people refer to hip-hop's golden age of being socially conscious
and political was like the Public Enemy era. And I think there are exponentially
more records available now than there was back then. So I don't know that the
ratio or amount has decreased, I just think that there is a lot of other stuff
out there also. So just to give a simple example, if ten records came out in '92
and eight of them were political or socially aware, now there are 100 records
in 2004 and maybe still maybe 20 of them, the same percentage and the same eight
are still there, but now there are a hundred other people talking as well, other
topics. So it's there but the difference between then and now is that Public Enemy
was the biggest group that there was at the time, and Dead Prez is not, unfortunately.
So it's just different. It's all there, and it's all necessary, I just think that
there needs to be more balance in the mainstream. Hip-hop is more diverse, and
more un-definable than it ever has been, but I think that needs to be reflected
in the mainstream.
And how do you feel about the politics of the day?
Well I think in a lot of ways I think the country is pretty screwed up right
now. I think rich and poor is becoming more and more polarized. And this was
always there, but I think there is too much emphasis right now on acquisition
of wealth and not so much put no actually being truly healthy human beings.
And I see this more than I've seen in recent years. And maybe it's because I'm
an adult now and these things become more obvious to me, but I just don't think
we are putting emphasis on the right things in this country.
Definitely, bombs instead of schools.
Yeah, to me that is just a travesty. To be spending that much money. But you
know politics is a business, and I see our power structure using the ultimate
business model right now. They are going to war to acquire new investments.
They are using other people's money, namely the taxpayer's money, and other
people's children to go fight the battle. None of their children are out there
with guns in their hands--that's a business model. You use other people's money
and other people's labor to get what you want. And I think that is unfortunate,
it just sends the wrong message. What does that say when you are spending billions
of dollars to go steal somebody's oil?
And you look on the street and there are homeless people and schools with
50 kids in a classroom that's falling apart.
It's just terrible. And the government really shows its ass when it does shit
like that. It really shows you where the priorities are.
Perhaps you just answered this, but what could America use more of?
I think we just need a little bit more compassion, and some focus on actually making the country better.
And less of?
And moving back to you a little bit, what do you think your greatest strengths and weaknesses are?
I think my greatest strengths are my resilience, my persistence, and my individuality. I think my greatest weakness is that I am perfectionist and sometimes these things take too long. I can become very obsessive over music.
Which in some ways can be a strength sometimes as well. What do you think is most important to mental and spiritual health?
Just awareness. Being aware of yourself externally and internally. Being aware
of what's going on around you, and just being in tune.
Could you say who has been the biggest influence on you musically and otherwise?
You know that is so difficult because you take cues from so many artists at
different points in your life, you know what I mean? I would say any time I’m
getting ready to make a record I always listen to a few artists just to check
in with them. Those artists are Bob Marley, James Brown, Buju--older Buju--just
to make sure I'm still doing the right thing.
And how about personally, outside of music?
My fiancé, my family, just to make sure that I'm still who I always was. And
my peers. I just love going out and observing.
Are you still as close with you crew as you were when you started?
Yeah. I mean we’ve grown up, we’re not 17 anymore, but definitely.
Can you name an experience in your life that has been monumental in shaping where you’ve been and come from?
I think when I was in the photographer B Plus's basement; B Plus is a guy who
shot a lot of stuff. I was in his basement one time about ten years ago and
I was sitting there having a conversation with a drummer named JMD from L.A.,
the guy played on like the Pharcyde records and the Freestyle Fellowship records
and so forth. And I told him, "Look, I have all these things I want to
do musically, with rap, I want to make rap songs that are rock influenced, reggae
influenced. I want to talk about this I want to do that. But I just don’t know
how to go about doing it all, get it all going. Where do I start?" And
quite simply he said, "Look, just do it all." And since that day on
that's all I've ever done. I've never censored myself. If there was something
I wanted to do I just did it. Whether it fell into the genre or not, whether
it was easy to categorize or not, I just went in and did it. I think that was
a real turning point for me, because that spoke to me, and not just musically.
Why shouldn't you go out and try everything you ever wanted to do in life, why
shouldn't you just do it all?
Do you have a favorite book or two?
I really like Forces In Motion. It documents a tour of Anthony Braxton,
who's a jazz musician. A really interesting book.
How about if you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be?
My father. I'd like to be able to talk to him. Curtis Mayfield. And Bob Marley.
If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?
I'd make the wrongs right.
Hmm, I like that. How about if you could change something in hip-hop?
I'd make the wrongs right.
OK, you're on the desert island, what five albums do you take with you?
Ooooh. Mine, I'd take Later That Day. Best Of Sade. I would take Kind of Blue, Miles Davis. And Catch a Fire, Bob Marley.
And last question for you my friend, where would you like to see yourself in 20 years?
Still doing what I'm doing. Still making music.
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