Tsutomu Shimura’s third album is both old-school hip-hop and an ambitious stab at creating a hybrid future. The San Francisco-based former sidekick of Blackalicious and DJ Shadow (and partner in the underground Soleside/Quannum crew) is up to his third solo album, and it might prove something of a refuge for those who envisioned a more user-friendly, organic version of hip-hop than the one that has transpired.
Unlike Kanye West, who wears this year’s colours, the Lyrics Born on As U Were reimagines hip-hop from a perspective partly marooned in the mid-‘80s, when Rick James and Prince rules the airwaves. The funk fusion created by that legendary double-headed helix seems to represent a promise that hasn’t quite eventuated. Or at least, that’s the thought that springs to mind while listening to the genre-spinning grooves here.
The production is vivid and never less than energetic, and fun-filled, and it’s gratifying that Lyrics Born will add any component he deems suitable to the mix, including (on one track) a touch of house music.
His rapping also appeals to this reviewer, as it harks back to the early days of hip-hop, where each line came through as a kind of street poetry, rather than an athletic blur of boasts and impenetrable slang.
But it’s not all good. Although Lyrics Born resists the temptation to stud the album with guest shots from all and sundry, he can’t resist the urge to try his hand at singing as well as rapping. His rapping voice has a sonority that’s pleasing, while his rasping singing voice is hectoring and about as appealing as a half hour in a cement mixer.
The record also fizzes out well before the end, and for some reason features a ‘bonus track’ that doesn’t sound in keeping with what came before. As U Were has much going for it, and it makes for an intermittently entertaining listen, but it’s too inconsistent to totally convince. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3.5/5
Music = 3.5/5