Listen to this track by Japanese-born, American-raised hip hop messiah Lyrics Born. It’s “Callin’ Out”, a party tune with something of an inwardly-looking point of view, underpinned by a groove inspired by 70s funk as much as from modern hip-hop. The track is taken from 2003’s Later That Day…, a debut album that is the product of an active career in hip hop as a support player.
When I first heard this at an office party of all places recently, I thought of both Parliament Funkadelic and DJ Shadow, just because of the unabashed funk approach, and with plenty of bottom in the Larry Graham sense of the word. And I thought “At last! A hip hop record that understands the importance of textural variety!” which is a common complaint of mine.
Another reaction was that Lyrics Born isn’t the only voice you’re hearing on this track, which is another important element of traditional funk. The best of the form always gathers multiple voices together, and make it sound like the most communal, community-oriented music in the world. And this one seems to take up that mantle quite nicely.
Third, because the sonic variety on this opens things up for the ear, I could really begin to appreciate the sheer vocal skill it takes to deliver material in this style, which is a combination of singing and rapping, one technique often intertwining with the other. And this is not even mentioning the breathing control it takes to pull off the phrasing in a number like this, which borders on the superhuman.
I have a lot of musical interests, yet I mostly feel shut out by hip hop. Yet, this track seems to welcome me in, by the sheer sweatiness of the groove, and by the vocal skill of Lyrics (born Tom Shimura) himself. My education continues!
To see and hear a selection of Lyrics Born tunes, check out the Lyrics Born YouTube playlist.