For Tom Shimura, aka Lyrics Born, his top personal musical highlight of 2007 was finishing his second solo album, Everywhere at Once (which hits stores next March). "Emotionally, it was such a ride. I'm glad it's done," says the alternative-rap icon, known for being both something of a perfectionist and a procrastinator. Lyrics Born spent a lot of time on the road in 2007. He made it out to the Parklife festival, held in five cities in Australia. He was the only hip-hop artist among 40 or 50 electronic and dance music acts, including Justice and M.I.A.
Another highlight for him this year was catching the Rebirth Brass Band at their weekly club gig at the Maple Leaf in New Orleans. "That was pretty mind-blowing, to see them in their element," he says. "They were playing, like, Snoop Dogg and the Eastsidaz covers. All horns. That was like, wow!" He hadn't heard the band's records before, but was impressed by their chops and their popularity in the Big Easy.
When not on the road or in the studio, Lyrics Born kicked back at his El Cerrito home with his wife, singer Joyo Velarde, and watched HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm.
He makes a point of listening to the radio in the car when he's not listening to his own stuff, so he can stay abreast of current music — "I feel like that's my job," he says — but during downtime, he gravitates toward classic soul music: Curtis Mayfield, the Commodores, the Dramatics, Barry White, and the Stylistics.
But as for more recent stuff, here are his picks:
Jay-Z, American Gangster
I liked it was because it was more vibe-oriented. You could really tell there were no songs on there deliberately for the radio. It was more about being on a vibe than having quote-unquote hits. It was more of a concept album, almost. In hip-hop, you don't really get that. To me, that's what I really liked about it. Having said that, I think it felt a little bit rushed, a couple songs sounded unfinished, but overall it was more about a vibe than club bangers — not that there's anything wrong with that, either. But that's what made it stand out.
Kanye West, Graduation
I like Kanye's album. I think he just does his thing. I like his vibe. It's very different than everybody else's records. He's not afraid to be who he is, and who he is is not like everybody else. The thing I like about Kanye's record is, he's very self-exploratory. He's always taking looks at himself. You don't really get that from most albums people put on the shelves.
The White Stripes, Icky Thump
I like it 'cause they don't use basslines. All their songs have a real heavy kick drum. It's like a rap song, but without the basslines. I was surprised when I listened to it. I put it in the car and I was like, "Wow, this shit bumps." And I think Jack White can write. He's a good writer.
Lil' Wayne, Gangsta Grillz mixtape
I was aware of Lil' Wayne, but I didn't really follow him. ... He's just really come into his own. I'm probably the last person to discover this. I just really feel like he's developed his own style. To me, he's more like an MC. It's really kind of a lost art. He's much less of a club-hit, radio-hit kinda rapper. I like shit that goes in directions that other people won't do. He's very clever. When you follow the way his rhymes flow, it's like, "Wow, that came after that?"
For more top tens from Margaret Cho, Vanilla Ice, Scarface, and some other random B-listers go to All Shook Down