Lateef Daumont is one of hip-hop’s biggest secrets.
Daumont, a Grammy-nominated rapper who performs under the name Lateef the Truthspeaker, may not be a household name to most. You won’t hear his songs on Top 40 radio stations, but you likely have heard them — either from his vast catalog of underground rap hits that date back to 1994, his pop-charting collaborations with producer Fatboy Slim or on TV.
Despite dropping several collaborative projects with members of his Quannum Projects crew — a critically lauded Bay Area indie rap outfit and label that includes artists DJ Shadow, Blackalicious and Lyrics Born —Daumont only recently released his proper solo debut, Firewire, on Nov. 8. The album is out now on Quannum.
The album features Daumont doing what his longtime fans know him best for: delivering thought-provoking and genre-bending music.
Songs range from melodic new wave-y jams (“Testimony,” “Left Alone”) and social commentary over electro-pop (“Hardship Enterprise”) to firebrand calls to arms (“We the People”) and straight-up hip-hop bangers (“Let’s Get Up”). The album also features Bay Area stalwarts Dan the Automator, Del the Funky Homosapien and The Grouch, among others.
It’s Daumont’s distinctive flow and versatility that set him apart from the beginning, when he and Lyrics Born released “The Album” as Latyrx in 1997. Now an indie-rap classic, the album featured the single “Lady Don’t Tek No.”
“It still gets plays in the club today,” he said. “It’s 13 years old. It’s like an adolescent.”
Now 37 and residing in Union City, the Oakland native has a different take on the music industry.
“Fame doesn’t equal financial stability and vice versa,” he said while sitting outside of Paddy’s Coffee House, a regular stop for the artist. “I’ve never put too much stock in 'who’s big when' anyway. I’ve been in [the industry] long enough to see people rise and fall.”
Daumont himself has had a fair share of the limelight. He’s toured the globe several times over, earned a Grammy nod for the 2005 single “Wonderful Night” with Fatboy Slim and appeared on national TV with a spot on David Letterman with DJ Shadow and Q-Tip in 2006.
Having been in the game for two decades, he’s learned more than a few tricks about how to turn a profit in what he describes as “a wasteland of an industry.”
Daumont and members of Quannum created licensing company Yeah Music and Sound to make original compositions and license their music for commercials for clients such as Adidas, McDonald’s and GMC.
Their most notable TV spot was last Christmas season’s popular “Is It Time Yet?” Target ad, which featured children opening Christmas gifts in reverse to Daumont rapping on the Blackalicious song “Toy Jackpot.”
The commercial earned him a hefty paycheck, “way more” than record sales would amount to, he said.
But money and fame have never been the motivation for Daumont.
“I don’t really do what I do to be famous. If that’s a byproduct of what I do, that’s great. While I have a good relationship with money, that’s not necessarily a goal either,” he says. “I make art that hopefully speaks to people, that conveys the commonality of the human spirit.”
On Firewire, the rapper, who also sings and produces, touches on varying subject matter. Along with his party-rocking vibe, he also tackles serious social issues. “Say What You Want” is about a cousin who was shot six times and survived. “It captures the atmosphere of what the family was going through.” Meanwhile, “Sara” deals with addiction.
“You’ll hear that and say, ‘He’s talking about my son, or my brother,’” he said.
Fresh off the heels of Firewire, Daumont has no intentions of taking a break.
“I’m hitting a point where I’m at my most prolific,” he said.
The artist is currently working on a new and highly-anticipated Latyrx album with Lyrics Born, with a mixtape dropping later this week. The album will feature production by Amp Live, Cut Chemist, DJ Shadow and more.
Daumont performs with Lyrics Born as Latyrx for back-to-back shows on Friday, Nov. 25 and Saturday, Nov. 26 at The Independent in San Francisco.