Just Raw

4 Quick Questions with Lyrics Born

Throughout a decade’s worth of releases and more than a few stints producing his peers, Lyrics Born (Tom Shimura to his friends) has been seen as one of those “other level” MCs. His knowledge of music has broadened significantly and his vision of hip-hop as an elevated and advanced strain of popular music has expanded exponentially by each album. Refusing to break his tradition of constantly evolving with each new track, Shimura changed his entire methodology for the recording of his third offering Everywhere at Once [Epitaph]. Abandoning his trusty Akai MPC-3000 (and with it the sample-based sound he was known for), Shimura utilized strictly live instrumentation when tracking Everywhere at Once in his recently built home studio. With a more vital, organic sound than ever before, Shimura has penned a new chapter in the saga that is Lyrics Born . . . and he couldn’t be more enthusiastic about traveling the road ahead of him. We caught up with Shimura for a quick Q&A about the making of Everywhere At Once.

For Everywhere at Once you stepped away from the MPC, and utilized studio musicians for the first time. How was that transition for you?
I had some experience producing [live] bands, such as The Poets of Rhythm, but this was the first time I worked this way on a whole album. I loved it. Quite honestly, it was a lot faster than composing and performing everything on the MPC. I still looped a lot, but it was with source material from the band, and I sequenced in Pro Tools. I still wanted to have that quantized hip-hop feel—that real precise, metronomic feel—but when you are looping real tracks you’ve recorded with a band instead of samples, it adds a whole new dimension [to your sound]. You get the best of both worlds; you get the clarity, warmth, and full frequency range of the live instruments, but when you have the looping and the multiple layering of kicks with samples, you really get the hip-hop feel.

You layered your kicks with samples? Were they canned or did you cull them from the session drummer’s takes?
Here and there I added double kicks and snares from my MPC, but I never tracked anything inside the unit. I just performed with it.

You’re going into your Pro Tools HD3 system with a nice front end—a Universal Audio 6176 and an SSL XLogic G Series preamp. I see you also have two Tube-Tech PE 1C EQs. Is that your only bit of outboard? Are you working mostly with plug-ins?
I have an old [Roland] Space Echo too. I don’t use a lot of outboard effects of keyboard modules. When I do use effects, I tend to rely on plug-ins, as they tend to be more tweakable and have recall features. I use the filters in my MPC, and I have a Neve 1073 that I use for sweeps because of the sonic quality it gives. But when I’m trying to paint a picture with effects, I rely mostly on plug-ins for the convenience factor.

You manage to incorporate a broad range of musical stylings on your albums yet maintain a sonic cohesion. How, as an artist, do you achieve that?
If I find a sound I like, I’ll stick with it throughout an album. I give myself room to experiment, but I keep my source sounds uniform. Everything from the instrument choices to what types of compressors I use I settle on . . . we’re painting different pictures but using the same colors. That’s how you get consistency and cohesiveness with your sound, even if you are changing “styles” within a track and laying down a funk beat with a rock guitar.