This just in: Rapper discovers synthesizers, makes album! On his latest, As U Were, Bay Area backpack-rap pioneer Lyrics Born imagines himself as he never was: the rapping, scatting, singing, high-energy frontman of a synth-pop/nü-funk band just waiting for its close-up. For nearly two decades, he’s had a golden reputation in the underground, not only for helping found the Quannum Projects label with DJ Shadow and Blackalicious, but for his inimitable flow—a raspy, jazz-inflected thing that can shift gears effortlessly from rich crooning to triple-time multi-syllabic flow with nary a bump. But it wouldn’t hurt him to slow his roll here. Most of the record is spent on blithe, fruitless trips down other people’s styles. For “Kontrol Phreak,” he’s Cee-Lo over an electro groove. (Remember “Closet Freak”?) On “I Wanna B W/U,” he’s Justin Timberlake for the chorus and Tone Loc for the verse. He does the Latin freestyle thing on “We Live By The Beat,” and a pitch-perfect Nate Dogg on “Coulda Woulda Shoulda.” The single, “Lies X 3” actually sounds like George Michael meets Nine Inch Nails. That last one’s actually pretty great, though, and when Born dives into darker territory, all the keyboard bluster and big-band groove takes on a third dimension. (See also the cautionary cocaine tale “I’ve Lost Myself,” and the Gift Of Gab-assisted “Pillz.”) Still, nothing sounds fresher than “Something Better,” his collaboration with New York soul subverters Francis And The Lights, which raises the question “Why wasn’t that the starting point?”