Review: Lyrics Born, “Overnite Encore: Lyrics Born Live!”

Lyrics Born
Overnite Encore: Lyrics Born Live!

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Like the snow leopard, the flying pig and the honest politician, the live hip-hop album is a very rare beast. No need to wonder why – the fact is that much hip-hop straight sucks on stage. Poor sound quality is the default excuse but underwhelming performance is the true culprit, making even the sharpest battle MCs and big-swinging hit makers avoid putting their shows to tape. Enduring delayed start times and muddy bass and indecipherable vocals for the sake of absorbing the vibe is one thing, but nobody’s gonna tolerate that nonsense once the show’s over. The tried and true method for stepping up the live set is, of course, by utilizing a full band and a live drummer and maybe throwing a sexy backup singer on top. That’s exactly what Lyrics Born has done over the past several years, making for some of the freshest live shows in hip-hop. So it’s no surprise that Overnite Encore: Lyrics Born Live! is a total success.

Lyrics Born, aka LB, aka Tom Shimura, the Japanese-born, East Bay-dwelling MC, formerly one half of Solesides originals Latyrx, has an instantly recognizable flow. It’s a rubbery basso profundo that’s rugged and cartoon-y at the same time. LB’s longtime squeeze Joyo Velarde also possesses a helluva set of pipes; she always features prominently in the group’s live set and stands out in these early 2006 Australian performances as well. Add a crack four-piece band given full room to bounce — just check out the psychedelic soul of “Love Me So Bad” and the bass-in-your-face blowout of LB’s Adrien Brody-approved hit “Calling Out”– and you’ve got an instant booty-moving classic. Yeah, all the familiar crowd-baiting tropes are here. (LB: “Melbourne, say hell yeah!” “Throw yo hands in the muthafuckin’ a-ya!” “Say do itdo itdo itdo it!”). But thanks to the band’s shifty sonic backdrops, and their ability to dip into old-school classics like “The Message” and “Rappers Delight,” the album has an electrifying sense of musicianship.

Of course it doesn’t hurt that LB is a wicked lyricist, charismatic front man and sharp songwriter. His Loony Toons rasp nearly overshadows a gift for complex internal rhymes, pretzel twist alliteration and a startlingly nuanced flow. Tunes like “Shake It Off” and “Stop Complaining” rely as much on his razor-sharp hooks as rock-solid grooves. This is party music, but LB manages to slip just enough street-smart righteousness between numbers to remind folks there’s a purpose to it, too. And man, these Aussies are so down.

Rounding out the set nicely is a trio of studio tracks at the end of the album. These cuts, especially “L-I-F-E” with East Bay hyphy hero Mistah F.A.B. and a remix of “I’m Just Raw” with Del and recent Quannum signee Pigeon John, flaunt a harder-edged style, a nice counterpoint to the loose-limbed funk delivered during showtime. It’s doubtful that this fully loaded package will trigger a deluge of quality live albums (or even quality shows), but no matter. Overnite Encore is enough to keep the heads happy for a while.

— Jonathan Zwickel

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