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They got their respective starts a decade and thousands of miles apart, but Lyrics Born and RJD2 are of the same school when it comes to the music. "It seems like a good fit," Lyrics Born says of his choice of touring mate. "He makes hip-hop that leans in a bunch of different directions and so do I."

As co-founder of the West Coast progressive hip-hop juggernaut known as Quannum Projects, Lyrics Born is eminently qualified to speak on the subject of "leaning" hip-hop. As part of the group Latyrx, he was responsible for one of the biggest underground records ever recorded ("I Changed My Mind"), and after more than 10 years of Quannum trailblazing new hip-hop territory, he stepped out earlier this year with his first solo record, the conceptually thick Later That Day. He sees it as an introduction to a new generation with its own set of challenges.

"Everybody was underground when I was growing up," he says. "Hip-hop didn't get played on the radio. Kids today have a lot more mainstream options; with rap being so big they aren't forced to seek out those underground groups. So we have to work harder now."

For his part, RJD2 appears happy enough just to be here. "I try to approach life with the attitude of expecting the worst and hoping for the best," he says. "Every time I put out a record I expect it to brick."

But for all his humble protestations, the producer's track record demands respect. RJ got his start with the Columbus-based group MHz and the trio caught the express train to underground heavyweight status by debuting on Bobbito Garcia's legendary Fondle 'Em label. In 2002, RJ moved forward with his debut album, Dead Ringer. Released to critical acclaim, it launched the producer into his own limelight. Now, with his second album, Since We Last Spoke, he's rolling up solo accolades almost as fast as he's accumulating production credits for the likes of Aceyalone, Souls of Mischief, Massive Attack and El-P's Def Jux label.

Nonetheless, despite his growing discography, humility wins the day. As RJD2 understates: "I'd be happy to be able to turn this into a career. I don't have a college degree. I don't have a lot to fall back on."

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