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Yesterday and Tomorrow

I didn’t grow up listening to P-Funk — I was too young, and my childhood suburbs too vanilla, for me to have hitched a ride on the Mothership in the ’70s. Instead, I discovered the world of Parliament-Funkadelic in my 20s, moving backward from the many hip-hop samples grifted off various albums that bore George Clinton’s signature. P-Funk’s appeal wasn’t just the sweet-molasses funk that oozed from the grooves, but the playful creativity that went into albums like The Electric Spanking of War Babies or The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein. Aside from the comic-book gatefolds that sometimes accompanied these LPs, it was clear that Clinton conceived of funk as more than just bass lines to move waistlines. He seemed enamored of P-Funk’s elasticity — in the squishy, chewy music itself, as well as in its ability to move minds and behinds with equal urgency.

Those same qualities jump out from the Bay Area’s Lyrics Born. On his Later That Day, there are some obvious sonic similarities between L.B.’s effort and Clinton’s conventions — when you listen to the chubby drum claps of “Callin’ Out,” Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” springs instantly to mind. However, more than just channeling some of the P’s audio influences, Lyrics Born exudes the kind of intelligence and charisma that so many Clinton classics showed. Each man crafts sounds and songs that evade easy expectation; each exudes a tangible joy in his own creativity; each has fashioned a masterpiece in his own way.

Last we heard of L.B. was back around the time of The Muzapper Mixes (1997), when he and Latryx partner Lateef cruised the cosmos on a funked-up space chariot. This time he’s planted more in terra firma, with earthy Afro-beat rhythms (“Stop Complaining”) and roller-park jams (“Do That There”). There’s something powerfully pedestrian about his musical tastes, but that’s a good thing. The album’s narrative opens with the nightmares of “Bad Dreams” and closes with the short “Nightro”; along the way, he leads us through his day. On “Love Me So Bad,” he has to contend with pissy girlfriend drama, while for “Cold Call,” he shares a morning conversation with Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab over quitting smoking and nosy telemarketers.

Though Later That Day is a concept album, a listener can be perfectly content enjoying each cut for its songwriting craft and production, rather than treating the album like a mystic puzzle. For example, “Pack Up” takes it back to Lyrics Born’s younger days of verbal whuppings, as DJ D-Sharp’s jackhammer track accents each fuck-you verse. L.B. mumbles his way across “Rise and Shine,” but the song’s minor-key melancholia and Joyo Valerde’s somber vocals set the tone without requiring more explanation. My personal favorite is “Callin’ Out” — a rousing clarion holler to “all area crew” that’s like the best disco song you never heard.

 

Beginning in the mid-1990s, L.B. and his Quannum crewmates — DJ Shadow, Gift of Gab, Chief Xcel, Lateef, etc. — helped birth the indie hip-hop revolution, yet they’ve mercifully avoided falling into the quagmire that movement has sloughed into, split between brainy emo-rap by trucker-cap MCs and aging b-boys nostalgic for ’92. Lyrics Born tinkers with what most rappers would consider junk — new-wave synthesizers, disco grooves, etc. — and creates a sound that’s influenced as much by early-’80s soul and modern rock as by anything in the rap bins.

Hip-hop through the early ’90s constantly pointed outward to James Brown, the Meters and, yes, George Clinton, but for the last 10 years, rap’s turned self-referential — P. Diddy samples Ed O.G., Nas remakes Tupac songs, Timbaland recites Rakim’s lyrics. That insularity is celebratory — if pop can eat itself, why can’t hip-hop? I’m tickled when a group like Little Brother redoes a Digable Planets skit, but I’m more heartened by how Andre 3000 riffs on West Side Story or how Lyrics Born nods to Fela Kuti and Bootsy Collins in the same song. These acts illuminate hip-hop’s potential to grow outward and find ways to surprise the listener, rather than just repackage itself. In an odd but auspicious way, Later That Day is an invigorating, innovative hip-hop album precisely because it doesn’t sound like a hip-hop album at all.

The Quannum World Tour comes to House of Blues on April 29 and 30.

LYRICS BORN | Later That Day | (Quannum Projects)


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