When Lyrics Born (whose mother calls him Tom Shimura) first expressed his desire to be a hip-hop artist, a high school teacher said to him, "An Asian rapper? That'll be the day!" Luckily, he found more positive attitudes while attending college at UC Davis, where he founded Quannum Records with his classmates Lateef the Truthspeaker, DJ Shadow and Blackalicious. After spending years behind the scenes, Shimura released 2003's Later That Day to critical acclaim and the album's hit, "Calling Out," quickly showed up in a Diet Coke commercial. He'll be at the B-Side on Thursday, Oct. 27.

Beyond the hit, the album explored a day in the life of Lyrics Born, with intelligent social commentary woven in straightforward narratives. This year's follow-up, Same !@#$ Different Day, is likewise catchy, smart and relentlessly political. It's hard to compare Lyrics Born to many contemporary rap artists, because his thought process and musical skills are simply light years ahead of many of the babes-and-bling artists who clog the dial. He takes his social critiques seriously, too; this is not music for those of you want to hear "screw the man for keeping me down." Rather than relying on simplistic platitudes (ahem: "Vote or Die"), he channels Public Enemy and Run DMC, telling approachable stories about complex issues.

But fear not, party goers; just because the man has an agenda doesn't mean he's forgotten how to rock. On the current tour, he's brought along a six-piece band and is managing to sell out shows from Alabama to Montana. Incorporating an a capella freestyle and plenty of audience participation, the live show is truly an interactive experience. Those of you who prefer to stand in the back of the room and nod along will probably be overwhelmed -- but if you want smart, energetic, positive hip-hop, get yourself to this show. -- Cortney Harding

Lyrics Born and his band at the B-Side on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 9:30 pm. Tickets: $15 at Unified Groove Merchants, 2607 N. Monroe St. Call 624-7638.

Hangar 18 | If you want easy hip-hop, you listen to stuff you can swallow: the Crown City Rockers, the Lifesavas, even the People Under the Stairs. Those are groups that soothe the soul and ease your pain; they're the ones that let you kick back, smile and enjoy the party. Hangar 18 -- alongside their Definitive Jux counterparts, Aesop Rock and RJD2 -- are a like a bad trip: They're kind of fun and kind of scary, but never enough to stop you from coming back.

Having risen from the dog-eat-dog New York City underground, Hangar mixes hip-hop and schizophrenic rave-electronic in the same needle, then shoots it into listeners' temples. But all urban music jargon aside, they're clever. They've mastered the musical climax, fusing hip-hop beats with crashing cymbals and oddball samplings. They're risky and jarring -- a bit like being thrown into a dunk tank of ice water. To-the-edge sampling meets the brilliant vocal stylings of underground masters -- and Hangar 18 demands that you're ready for it. -- Leah Sottile

Hangar 18 plays with Cryptic of Atoms Family, Brother Reade, Freetime Synthetic and Quiz Ten at Fat Tuesday's on Monday, Oct. 24, at 8 pm. Tickets: $6; $8, at the door. Call 747-3857.

People Under the Stairs | There's wisdom in hip-hop. Staccato, choppy beats aren't just setting a rhythm; they're mimicking the pace of life. Lyrics are urban nursery rhymes and torn-out journal entries. Hip-hop -- when served straight up -- is the music of the people, substantiating the pains of poverty and the plight of being utterly normal.

But things are changing. Hip-hop is hardly the same -- and I don't know about you, but it rarely speaks to me anymore. And as a new generation of artists (who sort of make hip-hop) seizes the reins, that everyman attraction to hip-hop is quickly being lost. Hip-hop isn't about 9-to-5 jobs or broken families anymore -- it's about pre-nups, designer purses and sweat-drenched dance clubs. Longtime fans are left standing in the record store wondering where the hell hip-hop went, and why artists are trying to fix something that is far from broken.

That's what makes People Under the Stairs look like the champions of the undeclared movement to keep hip-hop real. The Los Angeles duo is not new (they've been around since Toni Tony Tone), but all along -- through the eras of gangster rap, rap metal and trip-hop -- they've stuck to making excellent hip-hop in its purest form. The People Under the Stairs' Thes One and Double K are purists: They dig for their own vinyl, write their own flows, loop beats, scratch, engineer and design their own album artwork. Beat that, Dre.

Thes and Double K channel the original styles of everyone from Grandmaster Flash to Grand Mixer DXT, setting songs with simple looping beats and effective samples. And when they rhyme, it's simple. They speak about themselves, their lives, what they do, where they go and why they do it. Yeah, rapping about what you know sounds simple -- but it's what has and will always work for hip-hop. Maybe they're not taking the risks that would attract the emo kids, the metal heads or the critic's pens -- but they're speaking to the people that matter. People like themselves. People like you. -- Leah Sottile

People Under the Stairs with Time Machine, Giant Panda and DJ Parafyn at the B-Side on Friday, Oct. 21, at 9 pm. Tickets: $10. Call 624-7631.

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About The Author

Leah Sottile

Leah Sottile is a Spokane-based freelance writer who formerly served as music editor, culture editor and a staff writer at the Inlander. She has written about everything from nuns and Elvis impersonators, to jailhouse murders and mental health...