Rap duos go their separate ways all the time, Run and D, Erick, and Parrish, Tip and Phife, Dre and Big Boi. Rarely do two emcees separate without really separating. Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truthspeaker, otherwise known as Latyrx, released their debut album (The Album) in 1997 and spent the next fifteen years doing various side projects while still loosely remaining a group.
After a 16 year break Latryx is back with its second album, appropriately titled, The Second Album. The album features appearances by members of Living Colour, Blackalicious, The Decemberists, and tUnE yArDs and hits stores on November 5. In support of The Second Album Latryx is currently on the road on The Second Album world tour.
One half of Latyrx, Lateef the Truthspeaker spoke to ventwing.com about the group’s current place in Hip-Hop, its current world tour, and their new release, The Second Album.
SS: Why did it take you guys so long to release The Second Album?
Lateef the Truthspeaker: We’ve just been doing other projects. We’ve been involved in each other’s projects. I think I’ve been on every Lyrics Born record that he released. We’ve done tons of stuff together. We were both involved in the Galactic project and a bunch of other stuff. I put out my Maroons records, the solo record, and the Mighty Underdogs record with the Gift of Gab and Blackalicious. I roll out with Blackalicious a lot as well. I did that thing with Fatboy Slim and it took off and I got a little Grammy nod. I also toured a lot With DJ Shadow. Lyrics Born was really focused on doing his thing. Him and his wife were riding around on the road doing shows. I don’t know if you heard the R.L. Burnside thing that he produced but it’s really dope. We’re just busy – staying creative. We came together because we felt the time was right. We avoided touring together just for this purpose, to keep it fresh and special. Here we are.
SS: It’s been almost twenty years since you dropped The Album, how have you grown and changed since then?
Lateef the Truthspeaker: Yeah, yeah, I try not to say that [laughs]. We’ve both grown a ton I think. With that much time as an artist the amount of tools that you have in your toolbox just grow. I think both of our writing has gotten a lot better. Both of our voices melodically have gotten a lot better and we’re more familiar and comfortable with what our voices do. In terms of tone and breadth of content we’re more developed and aware of that. I would also say that we’re less inhibited or afraid in terms of genre and risks. We took collective risks back then, too, but back then there were certain things that we would have considered taboo that are no longer the case with us. We’ll tread really deep into experimental waters without a second thought, the only issue being whether or not the song is good or not.
SS: Your sound is really hard to define or put into a box, especially today. Where do you guys fit-in today in Hip-Hop?
Lateef the Truthspeaker: Where we would fit-in is a place where there is really a pushing of the artistic boundaries. I feel like in mainstream Hip-Hop one of the places that’s being pushed is the emotional boundaries. I feel like a lot of cats are very vulnerable and emotional in terms of the tone. The “success is so hard” kind of vibe is still an emotional vibe. I would say that that’s the status quo. There is definitely an element to that on this record but it’s kind of skill-based and also pretty wide in terms of breadth. When I listen to the record it’s not totally a Hip-Hop record. There is stuff on there that’s definitely for heads and cats who love lyrics but it’s definitely emotional. There is even stuff that’s lightweight Trappy. Overall, it’s really an example of how it’s really possible to push the creative boundaries and genre without really compromising yourself. Some of the things that we deal with on the record were not really compromised. One of the tunes we did, ‘Deliberate Gibberish’, there ain’t even no drums on that song. It’s just different and it’s not really nothing like that. With each song we tried to take it to where we hadn’t taken it before and maybe potentially to where it hadn’t even gone before.
SS: Recently Lord Jamar from Brand Nubian got a lot of negative attention for comments he made about rappers who he says wore dresses. He also said that Hip-Hop was black music and Macklemore had no place trying to dictate what was acceptable in the genre, because he’s just a guest. So as artists who make music outside of the box, what’s your opinion on Lord Jamar’s statements?
Lateef the Truthspeaker: I followed that. He was very vocal. Let me just start by saying that I was a f*ckin’ Brand Nubian head! I can recite to you the entire first album and most of the second [laughs]. I think that unfortunately one of the things in Hip-Hop, that Hip-Hop just doesn’t do is it doesn’t have a long memory. It doesn’t necessarily raise up its heroes of the past like other genres do. Think about Aerosmith, rock does it all the time. Brand Nubian is one of those groups, having said that, I don’t know if he’s completely on-point with some of the stuff that he’s talking about. I will say coming from the era that he comes from it’s true. There was a period when Hip-Hop music was dictated only by the Hip-Hop community. Those days ended in the 90s. Sometime between ’97 and ’98 the entire genre was hijacked by popular culture. Popular culture started dictating what was and wasn’t successful within Hip-Hop. The business dictated it. If the greater American public was mostly buying Hip-Hop, that number is much larger than the traditional Hip-Hop base. Companies are going to invest money in it so you have an emergence of much more stereotypical stuff because that’s what the larger United States is going to be comfortable with, or faces that look like their own. So you have more of a rise of Caucasian rappers as a result. That’s kind of how it is. You can say it’s right or wrong, bad or good, but it doesn’t really change it. I would say with somebody like Macklemore I’m just glad they can rap well. I would much prefer Macklemore over tons of others cats. Macklemore can rap, I’ll take it. Know what I’m saying?
SS: Yeah, but I don’t think Jamar was saying Macklemore couldn’t rap. I think he’s saying, don’t try to make homosexuality acceptable in my culture because you’re just a guest here.
Lateef the Truthspeaker: Yeah, I understand where he’s coming from. I’m familiar with that mindset. There was a time when the 5-percenters ruled Hip-Hop and the ideas of the Nation were prevalent in everything from X-Clan to Brand Nubian to Public Enemy. There was a time when that was all that Hip-Hop was. Tell me one group that’s like that right now.
SS: I’m sure they exist but they’re definitely not mainstream.
Lateef the Truthspeaker: Name one group with members under 30 that are like that right now.
SS: Under thirty? Now you’re pushing it [laughs]. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. It might be a bad thing.
Lateef the Truthspeaker: Again, I’m not arguing whether it’s good or not, I’m just saying what it is.
SS: Yeah, it’s a different time.
Lateef the Truthspeaker: It’s a different time governed by different rules. I would love to hear more stuff like that. Point blank., the Latyrx album is the most political album out between that and the EP and there are only like four political songs on it. Outside of stic.man it’s the most political thing out. It’s super-revolutionary like you’re in this wearing camouflage, borderline we don’t know what we’re going to be but we’re down. For better or for worse, that’s not where Hip-Hop is right now. It goes back to what we were talking about in terms of the shift in the 90s and the greater public and what their ideas are. Money that gets put into those groups in terms of purchases dictates what’s heard and the stuff that’s heard is more about hiding from certain realities than discussing them.
SS: Tell me about the single ‘Close Your Eyes’.
Lateef the Truthspeaker: I was on the road with General Elektriks who is on Quannum, in France. Antonionian from Subtle who is on Anticon was on the road with them and I was out there with Headnodic from The Mighty Underdogs and we were on the road and he played me some stuff. I heard that track and thought it was really cool. I enjoyed the groove and I liked the emotion of the track. I brought it to Lyrics Born and we started writing to it. He was on the fence about it at first. I told him the track is soft and lush and we should come with something hard and self-affirming and make it punch-line-y. That’s what we did and I thought it created a really nice contrast on the track. Originally we wrote two verses for that and one of my verses was a faster double-time verse. I wasn’t wild about it and the track lost a little bit of its punch because it was just us repeating. I thought, you know who can do this really well is Busdriver. I approached him about getting on the track and he was down. He did a good job of bringing it home. Me and the Antonionian’s were talking about what it was that we wanted to do for the chorus and I thought with the verses being as nice as they are we should go super-nice with it in a Steely Dan way. We wanted something that sounded poppy, catchy, and friendly but is actually dark and sinister.
SS: What do you have in-store for the fans on The Second Album world tour?
Lateef the Truthspeaker: I think if you come out and see Latyrx it’s going to be a performance unlike anything you’ve seen before. The stuff that we do together as a two-man team does harken back to the inception of Hip-Hop yet it’s kind of futuristic in its approach. There is a lot of energy and generally good vibes.
SS: What do you hope to accomplish with The Second Album?
Lateef the Truthspeaker: I think both of us kind of hope to leave the imprint that as a two-man duo Latryx is one of the best to have ever done it.
Purchase: Latyrx – The Second Album
See Latryx on The Second Album world tour
- 10/31 – the Knotty Pine – Victor, ID
- 11/01 – Top Hat – Missoula, MT
- 11/02 – Zebra Lounge – Bozeman, MT
- 11/03 – Railyard – Billings, MT
- 11/04 – Neurolux – Boise, ID
- 11/05 – State Room – Salt Lake City, UT
- 11/08 – Boomer’s – Laytonville, CA
- 11/09 – Harlow’s – Sacramento, CA
- 11/14 – Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR
- 11/15 – Domino Room – Bend, OR
- 11/16 – The Crocodile – Seattle, WA
- 11/20 – The Independent – San Francisco, CA
- 11/21 – Moe’s Alley – Santa Cruz, CA