Mr. Lif: Universal Magnetic

O n the approach of the Hip-Hop Political Convention in Chicago, the air is tense. While everybody waits to see the true impact of Hip-Hop’s political potential, one of its most decorated soldiers is on the move. Mr. Lif’s newly released Mo’ Mega is setting the underground on fire while the artist behind it considers […]

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n the approach of the Hip-Hop Political Convention in Chicago, the air is tense. While everybody waits to see the true impact of Hip-Hop’s political potential, one of its most decorated soldiers is on the move. Mr. Lif’s newly released Mo’ Mega is setting the underground on fire while the artist behind it considers the future of the country for his culture and beyond.

For nine years the Boston-born MC and Colgate graduate has rocked crowds across the globe. Despite already assuming a leading position in independent Hip-Hop, Lif’s hunger for dominance is thick right now. From a career benchmark where most would be content, Lif says he’s ferociously spitting like he was a teenager all over again. Several magazines, placing Lif on their covers, concur. The Def Jux veteran speaks about his creative process, crack music, and several restaurants in America that don’t serve “The Fries.” Right now the Bay is on fire. Everybody is talkin’ about Hyphy. I know you lived out here. Talk to me about your perceptions of the Bay Area rap scene in general…

Mr. Lif: When I was out there, man, I was building with Murs a lot. What I respected was how cats took such a grassroots approach to it. Like, the Living Legends cats having CD-Rs, and selling them right on the corner. I liked the willingness of the people to go out and support that. It changed how I approach things. Like when I Phantom was coming out, I was handing out stickers on the block letting people know “Yo, my s**t is out!” I loved living out there. It is one of, if not the most beautiful places to live in North America. Where are you going with the new album, Mo’ Mega?

Mr. Lif: I wanted to go to a real raw dark essence of who I am as an artist. After a four year hiatus, I feel like I gotta come back to the scene and kick in the door. Once again I’m like the new kid on the scene. You can hear in the music that I feel angrier and more ferocious than I ever have. That fire really is there. I’ve been doing this for nine years and I ain’t even thinkin’ about stopping. I wanna be able to perpetuate this career of mine. Have you heard the War Games LP by DJ Rob Swift?

Mr. Lif: No, I haven’t. It’s an amazing piece of work. Hearing his LP, and yours leaves me to wonder: “Are the black people of America, and their struggles being lost in the greater melting pot that is Hip-Hop?” It seems like more Black cats in the underground are frustrated by white people in the space who negate racial and political music and want to discuss more topics about cadence, flow, and production only. How are white people responding to this record?

Mr. Lif: It’s gonna be interesting to see. Obviously, the Perceptionists’ “Black Dialogue” displayed a great concern for the black community. Once again this record does the same, of course, in different ways. I feel like the entire struggle has been commoditized. Like, everyone is just getting out there. Whether they had to or not, cats are saying that they had to sell crack and shoot muthaf**kas. Everyone is saying it. Of course everyone is going to become desensitized to it. How could America not respond in that way. You can’t react to it the same way you would have reacted the first time you heard Kool G Rap do “The Streets of New York.”

I felt it was a lot more sincere. I worry about how many people are going to be able to relate to what is going on in my new record. But the struggle is as real as it’s ever been. I don’t get the sense that the black family is making a huge comeback. I feel like there is a big sense of disarray going on. I also think that popular music and media is misleading a bunch of black kids out there. In times where sincerity is low, you have to wonder what kind of people are going to be produced. We are all products of our environment. If the environment is filled with a bunch of people lying to themselves, what kind of people are we going to produce 15-20 years down the road? As a young black man who has several issues that are bombarding me and causing strife in my life, I gotta express those things. I hope that I can do it with a tone that’s sincere enough to penetrate the minds and hearts of the people that listen. Does Hip-Hop have a moral compass? And if it doesn’t, should it?

Mr. Lif: I just think that there should be a balance. If I make an album, I don’t try to fill it with all political rhymes. I also don’t try to fill it with battle rhymes. I try to show more aspects of my character. I can’t say that any music form is obligated to have a certain type of content. But if you were rapping about how you sold crack in 2001, maybe it’s time to broaden your subject matter.

I think it’s just a matter of integrity and people wanting to be different. Back in the day, you had Rakim, you had PE, De La Soul. They were not concerned with being like anyone. You have Outkast doing that. They were like “We’re gonna be defiantly ourselves- no matter what. ATLiens sold a million records? Well, guess what? We’re never going to do a record that sounds like that again. We’re moving onto Aquemeni.” I admire that type of s**t. Do you vote?

Mr. Lif: I used to not. Then I did. I just felt like it was of huge importance. The results of that did not pan out too well. I think really its all a crock of s**t. I don’t believe in the system at all. I don’t think it has anything to do with the masses of the people. So, will you be voting in the next election?

Mr. Lif: [Not very excited] You gotta ask me that around the time…ya know? I bring it up because President Bush’s brother, Jeb is talking about he might run. We’re looking at a possible Bush dynasty…

Mr. Lif: Yeah. That’ll bring me out [laughs]. I mean, I’m not even sold that they even count the f**kin’ ballots. Obviously, there is an agenda here. It’s in favor of the wealthy. That’s where it’s going to stay. The masses of us – the middle and lower class people, are inconsequential. I’ll go out and try to fight against the Bush regime. I’ll cast my vote in another direction. But to I believe what whoever is in there is going to make my life better? F**k no. Are any of these people someone I’d wanna have a conversation with and break bread with? Nah. What are your thoughts on the Democratic Party?

Mr. Lif: I’m not even wrapped up in parties too much anymore. Because there is only one party: the financial party. They work for the corporations, period. That’s what these people do. But [the appearance of] two different teams make for good conversation.

The one common interest is to keep people buying. To keep people in the stores. Keep them in the banks and do whatever they need to do. Do you think there could ever be a person who was not trying to keep this system in order in the White House? That person would be dead. Or, that person is deal already. It’s not going to happen. Edan became a star in 2005 with Beauty and the Beat. Can you talk about the collaboration on that track? Songs like “Making Planets” really stood out…

Mr. Lif: Every time Edan and I make a track, there’s a lot of dialogue that goes into it. Whenever we make music, it’s not on some “Yo, here’s a beat. This is what you should rhyme about.” That conversation does take place. But it happens after a few days of us hanging out, taking about life. I’ll be hanging out at his crib. He’s probably playing a bunch of records. Then he’ll show me some DVDs of [Public Enemy] playing in like ‘89. Just stuff that was real cutting edge when they made it but something I did not peep. I’ve had some of the deepest conversations I’ve had with anyone, with that dude.

We firmly believe that powerful music comes from powerful friendships. Or just a supreme understanding between a producer and an MC. That’s just how we run our thing. When it came to “Making Planets,” we were in a good groove as far as our foundation. He gave me the beat. He told me the feel that he was shooting for. I always like to let the music speak for me. My lyrics are me manifesting what the beat told me. I went back to the lab and he was like “Yo, the beat’s different now.” I was like, “I had this flow going for this other beat.” He was like “Yeah, but this is the one that works best in the context of the album”. It’s just about standing in front of that microphone and blowing it down until Edan says “That’s the take.” With Edan, I know I have hit like the 20 take mark. Like on “Heavy Artillery,” We have probably thrown away takes that are probably classics. We are so close to it that you can’t tell at the time. I think we let a lot of classics go. But I think we feel that what we ultimately put out- are classics to. Chuck D says the same thing about takes in that book Rakim Told Me. You’ve lived in Philly. But you are from Boston and you’ve been in the Bay. Tell me your favorite spots to eat in each city.

Mr. Lif: In the Bay…There are so many good spots. There’s a spot up on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley called Thai Kitchen. But Café De La Paz was the bomb. I used to go get the sangria. You gotta go to the Venus. That was my breakfast spot. I used to get omelets with the biscuits and this ill raspberry drink… oh! I’m going. You just made my weekend. So what’s up with Philly?

Mr. Lif: Ummm, Nam Vang. That’s my like Vietnamese spot. I be up in there with the summer rolls, the shrimp with the vegetables inside and the summer rolls, and the peanut sauce. Boston?

Mr. Lif: My Thai spot: Bangkok City on Mass Avenue, straight up! I gotta give a shout out to Ali’s Roti. [I used to] go in to get my Caribbean roots fed.

Adisa Banjoko is author of “Lyrical Swords Vol. 2: Westside Rebellion.” To purchase or download and ebook today visit: