Lyrics Born is a Berkeley, California-based rapper whose latest album “Real People” came out earlier this year. He will be playing at Aspen’s Belly Up tonight. “Real People” was crowdfunded, and relied on the donations of his fans to help him produce his album. But his big goals for his album had him coming back to his roots as an independent artist.
He goes by LB for short. And after about twenty years in the rap game, he was facing a tough question.
“What do I do next? What do I do that I haven’t done before? What do I do that hopefully no one else has done before, at least in my peer group. That becomes harder.”
With each album, he had to figure out how to differentiate himself from other artists. The rap genre - with its huge underground scene - seemed like it was catching up and he needed a solution. So he dug through his record collection and found his answer. The Big Easy.
“As a record collector and hip-hop aficionado, as I was doing my homework, I was like ‘how is it that this one region can produce all of this incredible music.?’”
So he went down to New Orleans. To search for some old records and start working on his own.
There, he enlisted a who’s-who of bayou musicians to play on his album “Real People”. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Galactic and Trombone Shorty. The result is a funkier, more organic version of the records that he’s been making for years.
Trombone Shorty is a big act in his own right, with appearances on David Letterman. LB says it was crucial for him to be around other artists because it is what keeps him going.
“In order to keep myself inspired and pushing forward and energized, I have to be surrounded by great musicians. I have to be in the company of great artists, great musicians, because I just derive so much inspiration from them.”
LB, whose given name is Tom Shimura, says he’s more conscious of the relationship he has with his fans. Rap, especially in the more independent scenes, is reliant on a strong fan base. After he got the funds together to make his album and help curb the cost of flying between California and Louisiana over and over again, he says that the bond he feels between himself and his fans is stronger than ever.
“It’s really brought me to a place where I have so much more engagement now with my fans, more so than I ever had in my career. I really love it. I made a concerted effort to be really engaged with that community.”
But now that LB has been around the rap game, he is starting to see himself as a bit of a mentor to younger artists who are just starting to write about their lost loves.
Even if it isn’t something he is doing consciously, he says it is important to help people learn the ropes.
“There’s no book on this. There’s no book on how to make it in the music business or how to rap. You can’t go to Berklee or Juilliard and take a class in rapping. That doesn’t happen. It’s a folk art.”
Perhaps the biggest perspective he's gained since crowdfunding his album is that he has returned to his roots. Underground rap is reliant on word-of-mouth and fan loyalty. The world is mixtapes is one that doesn't exist in pop or rock.
He says all artists are experiencing what it’s like to be closer with fans because of social media. It’s like returning to the old days when you didn’t have a record label pushing out your album for you.
“The relationship with fans is definitely more important than ever. I think for most artists, no matter how big they are in the food chain, they’re not as anonymous or as in the clouds and unreachable to fans as maybe they once were.”
With the Aspen debut of his new songs, he’s hoping that some new fans join the ones already following him. And like all other artists, he’ll give it all he’s got while his fans still want more.