During the pandemic, Japanese-American rapper/actor Lyrics Born launched the “Mobile Homies” podcast to connect and have meaningful conversations with some of his musical friends. The podcast evolved into actual collaborations and the newly released Mobile Homies Season 1 album. It features a staggering number of artists and producers working together out of mutual respect and the desire to have fun in the process. Over Zoom, Lyrics Born discussed how the project came together and the experience of making Mobile Homies Season 1.
Could you discuss how Mobile Homies Season 1 came about?
We were about three or four months into quarantine. I was definitely feeling isolated, and I knew I was not the only one. A friend of mine, a director named Evan Leong, who most recently did the movie “Snakehead.” He approached me. He was like, ‘Hey man, you’re at home; everybody else is at home. Let’s start having some conversations.’ And I was like, ‘oh fuck, yes, let’s do that’. For all those reasons, I mean we’re all isolated and at home and, and he’s like, ‘I bet you we’re not gonna have a problem pulling this off because everybody’s in the same boat’ in terms of being stationary and isolated and so forth.
So we set it up, and we did the podcast, and I ended up having some of the most in-depth, meaningful, heartfelt, emotional, intentional conversations that I’d ever had. With a lot of my friends, a lot of my homies, in passing before, you never really get a chance to have these kinds of conversations. When you were on the road, like I was, doing a hundred gigs a year and an album a year, maybe I’d run into some of these friends just backstage at a festival or on the street or in a studio somewhere. But you don’t really get a chance to connect necessarily. And so that made the podcast really meaningful. And I was like, well shit, judging by the fan response, if this can be a hit podcast, as far as my fans are concerned, I don’t see why we can’t turn this into a hit album series.
And so that’s what we did. I really took advantage of the fact that we were all so accessible at that time. I was like, I’m gonna grab as many people as I can from the podcast, and we’re gonna record an album, and I’m gonna grab as many people as I can that will actually fit on a song. And I’m gonna collaborate with more people than I ever have in my entire career on this album, just because of where we are in the world right now. Or where we are not in the world right now. And that was the origin of the podcast and how it mutated into an album.
Since you worked with so many people, did you have multiple collaborative tracks going on simultaneously? Did you focus on something and then move on to the next one? What was the process like working with these other collaborators?
At any given moment, we were working on 20 songs at a time. The beautiful thing was everybody was so willing, and I think it was because we all craved that connection. I think the misnomer for a lot of people is, ‘Wow, you have all this time off as an artist. Now you’re not on the road. You don’t have to be in the studio. Wow, you must have been really creative and productive.’ That was not the case for me for the first four to six months. Like everybody else, I was trapped. I was trying to process everything that was going on in the world. That was exhausting. You gotta think at that time, there were protests and anti-Asian violence, and there were elections, and there were wars still going on, and there was political unrest, and there was economic disaster.
Oh. And by the way, there’s also this thing called coronavirus out there that we’re all coping with. That’s not something that I, or any of us, had ever experienced. And so I didn’t have the bandwidth, the wherewithal, the energy to kind of put my head down and work through that. I was forced, like many people, to process all this shit. What’s happening to us in this moment? And so meanwhile, I’ve been on the road for the past 20 years straight. It was like, ‘Oh shit, you mean, I don’t have to be anywhere tomorrow or next week or next month?’ Or there’s no place for you to even go, you know, you can’t go anywhere.
But around that fourth or fifth month is when we started the podcast. It was like, ‘You know what? I think I’m ready to start working again.’ You know, however this shakes out, whatever we’re living through at the moment, I think I’m ready to start working again. And as that happens, we just started sending the tracks out. I started making the calls. I started recording things, and there it is.
What is your creative and collaborative approach? Would you start off on track and then send it off to a collaborator? Would people be sending you initial ideas? Was there any kind of like set way of doing things? Or did it evolve as you went along?
All the tracks came about really differently. Some of the approaches were very conventional. It was like, ‘Hey, let’s do a song together.’ ‘Okay, great. Let’s get in a room; let’s do it.’ A couple of those happened just prior to the pandemic. And a song like “Anti” happened because, during the pandemic, anti-Asian violence spiked. So that really was the impetus for “Anti,” and that all came about really quickly. That was a completely different process. A song like “Long Shot” that came to us about halfway written, and I was like, ‘I think Joyo would sound great on this song, you know? So we did that with Joyo Velarde. Some were songs that other bands brought to me. They were like, ‘Hey, do you want to get on this thing?’ Like, yeah, sure. And then and after we finished, it was like, ‘Does this song have a home?’ And they were like, ‘No’, ‘well, okay, let’s get somebody else on it and put on Mobile Homies.’ It just sort of fit the spirit of collaboration. So it came together in a lot of different ways.
Did any of the resulting tracks take you by surprise?
Yes, the song was Sitcom Dad and Dan the Automator, “This Song’s Delicious”. I’ve worked with Randall before and Dan before on the music for “Always Be My Maybe” with Hello Peril. I didn’t think we’d ever do any music ever again. I thought we did it for the movie, and it would stay there. But I can’t tell you the number of people that reached out to me, saying when are you guys gonna do another song together? Three of you, when are you gonna do another song together? So I was fortunate enough to get in the studio with Randall again, as Sitcom Dad.
The process there is different. We’re sitting there thinking, how can we make each other laugh by what we’re writing? The criteria for this being a great song is how much we make each other laugh. And so that’s different; for me, that’s not really how I work or have worked in the past.
And then, just to be able to have a Blackalicious song, a song with Blackalicious for this album. It was obviously recorded when Gab was still alive. That was special for me because I hadn’t worked with those guys for a long time. And the fact that it did make the album, it’s really special for me to be able to have that song on the album with him.
Does the album pretty much represent the entirety of the collaboration? Might the tracks that didn’t make it on that see release in the future?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is season one. This is called season one. So my goal is to put these out on a regular basis. It’s a lot of fun for me because I don’t have to adhere to any theme. Usually, when I work on studio albums, it’s like one principal producer, so the sound is very cohesive, and there’s a lot of discussion about the direction of the album. And there’s a lot of one-on-one discussion with the producer, and it’s very intentional in many ways. This was not, and that was the beauty of it. The only thought was how many of us can get on one song, and how much fun can we have? From song to song, I’m not sitting here like, ‘Okay, what’s the one unifying principle here for the album?’ The only principle was, again, how many people can we get on the song, and how much fun can we have?
Given that, was it a challenge at all in terms of putting the album together, deciding which songs would make it onto this one, what the order should be? What was your criteria for that?
The order was difficult. Coming up with the album sequence was difficult because a lot of the songs are very different from each other. But to be honest with you, that’s always a challenge; sequencing an album is always a challenge because you have to sit there as a listener, you have to take off your artist and producer hat, and you have to sit there as a listener and be like, ‘Okay, what is gonna sound best song after song, as a cohesive road map in a body of work?’ when you’re talking about this particular little microcosm of an album.
So sequencing was particularly challenging, and in my opinion, in my experience, sequencing is challenging, period. I really do believe there’s an art to sequencing albums, and a great friend of mine and collaborator that I’ve worked with a long, for a long time, DJ Icewater, he sequenced the album along with all the interludes from the ‘Mobile Homies’ podcast. So I gotta give a shout to Icewater for doing that. And that’s another thing. There was collaboration there that wouldn’t have happened; I normally would not have farmed that out. So, you know, there was collaboration both in the studio and outside.
Are there any ways that you feel that doing this album may have an influence on your future work
I really hope so. Just for my spirit and my soul, during this time period, it was great to be able to work with so many people. And just to be able to have the sheer amount of conversations and interaction with human beings in the process of making this album was really healthy, I think, for me and everybody else involved. And that, I think, was really special when it came to this album. I don’t think that I would call, you know, Randall about this song. The actual material was only a couple of minutes, three to four minutes in the conversation. Then we’d stay on the phone for an hour and a half. That’s what I’m talking about. Like it was really healthy to be able to have those kinds of conversations, not only just with the podcast, but in the creation of the album. It really meant a lot, I think, to me and to the artists involved to be able to do those things.
Once you got going, was this your entire musical focus? Were you writing any other material that might end up on your own albums in the future? Or does this pretty much represent everything you were doing musically at the time?
I’m always developing ideas, but when it’s time to finish an album, that becomes my focus. So I may work on 10 or 12 songs at a time, maybe six or seven of them were for ‘Mobile Homies,’ maybe the other two or three or five or whatever… the ideas were more appropriate for something else. But then once I get a release date on the books and we get a production schedule together, I hone in and I finish that album.
I’m not one of these guys that has hundreds of unfinished songs, or even finished songs, in a vault. If I finish a song, it’s gonna see the light of day eventually. Somewhere, somehow, that song is going to get put out. I personally don’t see, as an artist, a lot of value in songs that you create that never come out. That’s not the type of artist that I am. God forbid, if I pass away, you’re not gonna come to my house and find a billion songs on the hard drives. That’s an artistic and philosophical position that I have.
For more info, visit: lyricsborn.com
MOBILE HOMIES SEASON 1
1. “Sundown” – with Con Brio
Produced by Con Brio
2. “Misfits” – with UTK The Inc (Utkarsh Ambudkar)
Produced by Kyle McCammon
3. “Anti” – with Cutso
Produced by Cutso
4. “This Song’s Delicious” – with Dan The Automator, & Sitcom Dad
Produced by Dan The Automator
5. “My City” – with Blackalicious, & Lateef
Produced by Chief Xcel
6. “Enough About Me Remix”- with The Grouch, & Eligh
Produced by Cutso
7. “Mistakes” – with Con Brio
Produced by Con Brio
8. “Desperada” – with Lateef, & Xarina
Produced by Jim Greer and Robert Mercurio
9. “Long Shot” – with Joyo Velarde, Galactic
Produced by Robert Mercurio
10. “Everyday Love” – with Prince Paul
Produced by Prince Paul
11. “Enough About Me” – with The Grouch, & Eligh
Produced by Cutso
12. “Anti Remix” – with Rakaa (Dilated Peoples), Shing02, Bohan Phoenix, & Cutso
Produced by Cutso