Lyrics Born is the stage name of Tsutomu “Tom” Shimura, a Japanese American rapper/songwriter/producer/voiceover artist from Berkeley, California. Though Shimura has lived most of his life in Berkeley, he was born in Tokyo, Japan to Japanese author Takao Shimura and Italian/Jewish-American union organizer, Charlotte Arzio-Shimura. While attending high school in Berkeley, Shimura started to gain an interest in hip hop. His hip hop career officially began while at college at the University of California, Davis, where he was a college radio station DJ for KDVS. Before changing his name to Lyrics Born, he released his first single “Send Them” under the name “Asia Born” in 1993. He formed the group Latryx in 1996, and was a founding member of the Quannum Projects record label in 1997. Lyrics Born released his first solo LP, Later That Day, through the label in October 2003, and “Callin' Out” was his first hit single. His most recent album, As U Were, was released in 2010.
If you didn't know any better you might think that Tom Shimura, better known as rapper Lyrics Born, is an ambassador for Northern California. Though he was born in Tokyo, Japan, Shimura has spent the majority of his life in Berkeley, California, and his love for this region extends into his music. Take “The Bay,” from 2005's Same !@#$ Different Day. It's a soulful, bass-heavy ode to everything that's unique to the Bay Area, from its multicultural population, to its liberal political climate: “The Bay taught me how to persevere, endure and maintain/ Despite adversity, courageously with purpose and strength/ The entrepreneurial attitude we have will serve us very well/ With very little we're able to adapt,” flows Shimura. Since stepping out as a solo artist under the name Lyrics Born (he was originally a founding member of the rap group Latryx), Shimura has gained a following that extends far beyond the Bay Area. You might already know him from his 2003 breakout hit “Callin' Out” (from his debut album Later That Day), which was featured in an ad for Diet Coke with actor Adrien Brody. He's had a number of releases since then, the most recent being 2010's As U Were. Combining hip hop with bits of electro, synth-pop, and slappin'-the-bass funk, this is an album that's meant for parties—of either the house or block variety. “Oh, Baby!” starts off with a bold chant of “You ain't funky like me!” before Shimura launches into a rapid-fire flow of lines like, “I wanna trust you/ but I'm scared of people!” He goes on to prove just how funky he is by incorporating old-school style horns and a drumline beat. Alongside Lyrics Born, the album features a number of notable collaborators, including producer Jake One (50 Cent/De La Soul), Lateef the Truthspeaker (who was also in Latryx), and Australian singer Sam Sparro. The latter appears on “Coulda Woulda Shoulda,” a feel-good soul/ funk song that, with its horns, strings, and high-pitched “ow's!”, almost sounds like it could be an early Jamiroquai track if it wasn't for Shimura's distinct rap style. If you ever wondered how to get a spontaneous dance party started, look no further than Lyrics Born. Blast any one of his albums around at least a handful of people, and you can pretty much guarantee an instant boogie session.