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The Bay Area Chameleon: Lyrics Born's shift toward soulful electro grooves may be his best reincarnation to date 

When Lyrics Born comes to WinterFest on Saturday night, the set he and his band kick out will be far from straight-ahead rap music.

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"I get bored so easy. That's really my blessing and my curse," says Tom Shimura, the man better known as Lyrics Born, the stage name he's been using for about two decades now.

It's his insatiable boredom, Shimura says, that has led him to reinvent himself as a musician not just between albums but on a song-to-song basis. While most know him as one of the leading rappers in the Bay Area hip-hop scene, when he comes to WinterFest on Saturday night, the set he and his band kick out will be far from straight-ahead rap music. That's because on his latest record, As U Were, Lyrics Born has shifted gears - once again - this time molding his sound into an electro-rock funk machine.


There are a few tracks on As U Were that give us a sampling of the classic Lyrics Born vocal acrobatics, but for the most part Shimura is currently leaning more toward late-'70s funk than anything resembling modern hip-hop. The record is heavily steeped in electronic bleeps and bloops, but also incorporates plenty of live percussion and a soulful groove underlying most of the tracks. This experiment has been successful, as evidenced by the dance-party-in-a-can of an album and live show that Lyrics Born has been touring behind since this fall.

It might seem odd that a Bay Area artist known primarily as a rapper would be playing a big, public stage like the one at WinterFest, but somehow Lyrics Born makes this work, pretty much daring his eclectic fans base, as well as those seeing him for the first time, to try not to dance to his surging sounds. Take the track "Kontrol Phreak," for example. It kicks off with a sort of "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" disco spin and drives on for another three minutes with the sort of funky strut that makes you do the driver's seat dance moves that are sure to make you a target of stoplight humiliation.

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As Shimura explains it, his real fans shouldn't be all the surprised by his new direction. He's always resided a long way from the hop-hop mainstream and made a career out of pulling in different sounds into his repertoire, and after all, the funky edge that runs through this record isn't entirely new.

"I'm really fortunate that people are down to go on this ride with me," says Shimura.

And he certainly doesn't take his fans for granted.

"When you're the type of artist that I am that really doesn't make the same album twice it can be fun, but you never know how people are going to respond to the twists and turns in your career," says Shimura.

There have been plenty of twists and turns in Shimura's career and his solo albums follow many successful years as half of the rap group Latyrx that he founded with Lateef the Truthspeaker, the super-powered lyricist with whom he continues to collaborate. In addition to keeping up to speed with all his fellow Bay Area hip-hoppers and focusing on his solo records and guest spots, Shimura likes to stay extra busy - after all, he's a guy whose biggest enemy is boredom - by contributing his rumbling and dynamic voice to cartoon programs. His voice has been heard on several Cartoon Network promo spots, including intros for the wildly popular Star Wars: Clone Wars.

"I'm always looking for new things to say and new things to do and experiment with. Really, I'm just trying to push the envelope," says Shimura.

Lyrics Born at WinterFest

8:30pm Saturday, February 19. All ages. Free with admission to WinterFest. For a complete schedule of performers, see the Bend WinterFest guide in this issue.

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