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The LiFTED 5 with Lyrics Born

“My medium is music & art, and nothing great comes out of working alone”

LiFTED | Words: Marcus Aurelius Photos: Mark Chua | 18 Apr 2022

Born in Japan, but Bay Area through and through, Lyrics Born has been a luminary in the Asian Hip Hop scene since he first touched the mic. Nearly 30 years and 11 albums later, including the first-ever Greatest Hits album by an Asian MC, Lyrics Born still has a lot to say. This time, he’s brought a whole gang of friends to the party with him.

On April 15, Lyrics Born dropped Mobile Homies Season 1, a 12-track album based on a podcast that was recorded during quarantine. He works with a lot of top-tier talent on the album like The Grouch and Eligh, Prince Paul, Bohan Phoenix, Rakaa from Dilated Peoples, and even reunites his fictional group with Dan the Automator and actor Randall Park from the 2019 movie Always Be My Maybe for a track. “My medium is music and art, and nothing great comes out of working alone,” said Lyrics One.

LiFTED caught up with Lyrics Born for a few quick takes on the album, navigating the industry as an Asian Hip Hop artist, getting back on the road, and the incredible reaction he got from releasing ‘Anti,’ his track with Cutso, speaking out against the rise of hate crimes perpetrated against Asians in America.

You’ve got a new album out, Mobile Homies Season 1, and you’ve got a lot of friends on each of the tracks. When you started out making this album, was your goal to get a feature on each track, or did it just end up this way? Is there anyone who you wanted to be on the album but didn’t make it for whatever reason?

The album spun out of the Mobile Homies podcast series that we recorded in the depths of quarantine. I was having such amazing and deep conversations with people that none of us would ordinarily have the opportunity to experience, but because we were also isolated, we couldn’t wait to have these discussions. It occurred to me that if this could be a successful podcast series, there’s no reason why I could become a successful album series, all in the spirit of human interaction.

As one of the first Asian rappers who was chopping down trees and kicking in doors, how does it feel to see Asian Hip Hop on the rise? Do you like being one of the OGs of the scene? Are there any Asian rappers on the come-up that people should know about?

I absolutely love the fact that there are more and more Asians every year participating professionally in the arts. For many years, I felt like I was out on an island recording, touring, and performing. I would tell any artist, “Devote as much time to your craft as you possibly can so that you can be your best self artistically.” For Asian artists, I would tell them there is an extra layer on the blanket for you, and it will be more difficult for you in so many ways, and that you must find a team that understands your journey and that it is going to be different than that of your peers. You can achieve every single dream that you can conceive at any point in your life, but navigating those waters will likely be a little trickier.

You put out ‘Anti’ last year with Cutso to speak up against hate crimes against Asian-Americans. What was the general reaction to that? Now you have a remix with Rakka, Shing02, and Bohan Phoenix on the album. How did that come about? Have things gotten any better over the past year?

The reaction was incredible. For Asians, we saw how particularly dire our situation was about this time last year, but many of us have been dealing with anti-Asian sentiments our entire lives, so the feelings weren’t completely unfamiliar when the incidents started to spike. Nonetheless, we had an opportunity for our issues to be seen and heard by the world at large, which is a position that we rarely see ourselves in. We knew we had a moment that we had to capture, and I feel like we did that well. I’m actually not sure if things have gotten better this year, I think the mainstream news cycle simply moved on as it often does. There are still many many incidents in the news particularly involving Asian American women and the elderly. Thank God though, the awareness is now out there and there are more metrics so we are able to track our progress.

Tell us a little more about #Dinnerinplace. What’s the idea behind the series? Which dish has been your favorite to make? Anything that you haven’t made yet that you want to show the world?

Dinner in place was something I started in quarantine, just to make everyday life a little bit more fun. As a working father, I don’t have time to cook for hours and hours every day, but I do love to cook, and my health and lifestyle are important to me. With dinner in place, we try to make delicious, healthy, and creative meals in a short period of time. If it takes longer than 45 minutes, I’m not doing it. We just made oatmeal cookie dough Tamaki rolls, which are fucking nuts. My dishes are getting better and better as time goes on, and I’m not gaining weight which is a miracle.

How good does it feel to be back doing live shows and getting that interaction with the crowds? What did you miss most about concerts during the shutdown over the past years?

It feels great. It’s done wonders for my mental, physical, and spiritual health to feel reconnected with my purpose once again. I’m having more fun than I’ve had in years both on stage and off. There’s still this looming cloud out there of COVID-19 for us as artists because we are around so many people night after night performing, but nonetheless, I think we all needed it as performers and as patrons.

Check out Lyric Born’s Mobile Homies Season 1 below.