Lyrics Born - As U Were

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As U Were fails as both an exercise in Electro-nostalgia and as a stylistic departure who's proven style is so inherently unique.

On paper 1997’s Latyrx was an album that should not have worked. Its title was a hybrid of the names of the Bay Area artists who joined forces on the project, Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truth Speaker. These two emcees from DJ Shadow’s Solesides crew had flows so idiosyncratic that at times you’d find yourself asking, “Can I even call this rapping?” But that was what was so phenomenal about the project. Both rhymers could go from sleepy drawls to sing-song rants jam-packed with so much Pynchon-inspired stream of consciousness that the included lyrics sheet was both a necessity and a joy to follow along with. Add to the mix a backdrop of murky Funk provided by Shadow, Chief Xcel and Lyrics Born himself, and you have a near-perfect album that still sounds ahead of its time.  

Unfortunately the innovation of Latyrx  just magnifies the messy As U Were, the newest full length from Lyrics Born. As U Were fails as both an exercise in Electro-nostalgia and as a stylistic departure from an emcee who shouldn’t need any departure since his own style is so inherently unique.

The album has the best of intentions but comes with too little too late, in a year where Cee-Lo Green and the late Camu Tao have made similar genre-bending efforts. This an album  that simultaneously manages to sound candy-coated and watered down. Even the skits don’t offer much of a respite. How many times have we heard an album’s artist riffing with the voice of a slimy record label exec who is trying to convince him to sound less “street” and more “Pop”? The problem here is that it sounds like Lyrics Born actually lost the argument.

On songs like “We Live By The Beat,” LB’s voice struggles to rise above layer upon layer of unnecessary electro fluff while he scrambles to pull back a beat that ends up swallowing it’s own creator. The vocals on “I’ve Lost Myself” come across as basically yelling as he once again strains to reach the higher registers through an overload of plug-in effects. What’s worse is that the guest vocalist singing the chorus is given a rich boost to flow loud and clear over the mix. Not only does this break any cohesiveness but it makes Lyrics Born sound like that much less of the proven vocalist he is. And trying to “really” sing is something this album refuses to give up on so much so that it ends up feeling downright uncomfortable.

Even as a guilty pleasure, As U Were comes up short as moments like the scatting on “Oh Baby” proves that cheese can still spoil. The rhyming style that Cameo adopted often started sounding tired halfway into Cameo albums. So it’s inevitable than an emcee relying on more of the same will have a hard time keeping the listener on his side.

Lyrics Born has always been in the upper tier when it comes to rappers performing their material live and his past albums were boosted by how good you knew the tracks would sound in a club. As U Were is an album that is so unnecessarily busy that it beats the listener over the head even coming through headphones. And unfortunately that’s not a pleasurable beating in a Dalek or Cannibal Ox way but the worst kind ... an uninteresting beating. Hopefully the next project from Lyrics Born comes sooner rather than later and uses his love of music from all eras to make something that relies more on himself than on a sound from the back catalogues of others.



  • Icarus

    This album was awful. What a funky mess, I miss the old Lyrics Born albums!

  • David Castellani

    LB, what happened? It seems like most of the better underground hip-hop crews fall to the same fate. They get moderately known, taste a little success and BAM! Now they want to be POP stars. My Heart is truly broken, I have been a HUGE LB fan since the beginning. I make lots of Hip-Hop and LB was always one of my biggest inspirations. I could rattle all of his (old) versus off the top of my head, word for word. But LB just put a big stop to that. I hope you read this LB. What happened to the mind melting, ferocious, creative genius, linguistic master that was in there? The same one that would captivate, motivate and conquer just 2 albums ago? Now it seems you're making music for 12 year old girls and in the closet hipsters! I hope you understand that by abandoning the raw hip-hoppers like me and going after the 12yr old MTV crowd will bring you happiness. I hope they respond to your new direction as much as we loved your old one. Maybe your record sales and feedback will humble you to go back to your old ways and bring that raw hip hop again. Don't fall to the same fate as Swollen Members! Once mind demolishing hip-hop, now douche bag background music. In tears, A huge fan!

  • JimmySmitts

    "Now they make wack Pop music that ain't even popular." That about sums it up for me, which is such a DAMN SHAME, because this crew was all set to be that light years ahead crew. They had crazy styles and dope voices and concepts, but were also good enough at traditional MCing so that you knew they were adding to MCing with a strong foundation rather than just doing something random. AND they had one of the best sample based producers ever in Shadow! And he had Poets of Rhythm to do some raw funk! Every Latyrx track with a Shadow beat was an instant classic. But they gave it all away to do some cheesy 80s electro-funk with bad female r&b choruses, etc. SMH

  • Bayword Frown

    Damn, Quannum stay losing in the last five years. Last album I BOUGHT and/or was pleased about was The Maroons. Now they make wack Pop music that ain't even popular. It'll be 10 straight LB, John and Joyo records til we ever see another good album.