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Latyrx: Still Deft And Defiant After Two Decades

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It's been 17 years between albums for the Bay Area alt-rap duo Latyrx. Oakland-born Lateef Daumont is a Black Panther's son who raps as Lateef the Truthspeaker, while Tokyo-born Tom Shimura, a banker's son, raps as Lyrics Born. In 1996, they collaborated on The Album, a gorgeous and contemplative record. Then, they went their solo ways for almost two decades. Now, finally, they've brought forth what is hands-down the alt-rap album of the year.

Thumbing its nose at know-nothings who still believe that rapping isn't music, Latyrx's The Second Album is launched by two rabble-rousing speeches that are musical in themselves.

The new album works to vary the rappers' contrasting flows — not just with basic beats, but with a wealth of melodic elements. These come mostly from the West Coast hip-hop underground. But two remarkable tracks were produced by tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus; the liquid "Watershed Moment" evokes the elixir of life in more ways than one.

Latyrx's members aren't kids anymore -- The Second Album is what we inevitably call "mature." But for Latyrx, maturity is an occasion for fresh invention, from a song where rumors about a lost cat kick off an anti-terrorism initiative to a gun control number in which patriots in powdered wigs load their muskets one bullet at a time.

Lateef is the activist firebrand; Lyrics Born the one-step-at-a-time philosopher of moderation and what he calls "entrepreneurial spirit." But both make it their business to look forward. The Second Album is life-affirming, with a force few artists in any genre can match.

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