Lyrics Born Totally doing that "pretending to scratch, but really flipping you off" thing. Winni Wintermeyer

LYRICS BORN STARTS "Pack Up" (off 2003's Later that Day...) with stunning energy: "You can't even hold the microphone without it feedbackin'/since the days you speed-rappin' I've been snappin' cats' spinal bones/embarrass 'em in front of women, take their little titles home/bear in mind I come from an era in time/when you actually had to have lyrics that rhymed/let my baritone ground your insides, paralyze your cerebellum, throw your reality out of alignment." But Lyrics Born doesn't sound boastful—there's none of that clichéd hiphop swagger, even though yeah, the lines are plenty boastful and swaggering. No, they sound right: True, like Lyrics Born is simply telling you how it is, and you believe him, because his music does grind up your insides, does paralyze your brain.

Lyrics Born's voice—elastic and gravelly—is the core of all this, and the thing that makes his music so fun, welcoming, and weirdly atypical. With a delivery both laconic and heartfelt, and his articulate lines half rapped and half sung, Lyrics Born's vocal relaxation belies a pitch-perfect precision that catches and pulls on ears with his two albums, Later that Day... and Same !@*$ Different Day.

So okay: This is tricky, especially since 2005's Same !@#$ is actually just a remix album of Later. Actually, scratch "just"—there's a big enough difference on Same !@#$ to not only justify a remix album, but to make one realize how flaccid and rote 90 percent of current hiphop is. It's a damning insight that stings all the more because of how subtly it's delivered—with Lyrics Born's informal tone melding with killer production, he's not talking shit, he's just doing his thing. And said thing happens to be so solid that Lyrics Born can't help but make almost everyone around him look slack jawed and dull eyed.

And aside from Lyrics Born's singular brand of hiphop—fused with twists of funk, soul, reggae, all wrapped up in new-school catchiness and old-school meticulousness—it's still the voice that's key here, and not just the physical one. It's also his literary voice, his style, his expression, his conversational topics. With forceful production and sticky hooks, there's an honesty, smart and alive—Lyrics Born's fervor and candor are here, on display, making it obvious how those characteristics are missing from most glossy, shrink-wrapped hiphop.

But okay, right—in addition to that whole voice thing, it's the concept, sometimes: Later that Day... chronicles a day in the life of Lyrics Born, from a bleary haze interrupted by an alarm clock to the drawn-out resignation of a night's surrender. Finishing Later, one feels as if one knows Lyrics Born, has sat down and talked with him, thought his thoughts, seen his perspective. Which is kind of what it's all about, once you get past all those lingering beats and stunning lines.