Music Reviews


Black Dialogue

Definitive Jux Records

Since emerging from Boston to establish himself on a series of high quality recordings in the 1990s, Mr. Lif has maintained a consistent presence among the most interesting MCs working in the industry. Black Dialogue is the latest from Perceptionists, his joint venture with Akrobatik and DJ Fakts One.

A skilled veteran who knows his hippdebip from his dipsy-doo, Lif runs with serious folk: Aesop Rock, El-P, Talib Kweli, Guru, Humpty Hump, WWE Champ John Cena – who uses their collabo “Champion Scratch” as his theme song – and so on. Lif’s own product is consistently well-received, and since his debut in 1998, he’s been a favorite MC of the hip-hop cognoscenti. This is a splendid party album. It plays smoothly and consistently, with moments that stand out as among the best hip-hop in another good year for the underground.

“Let’s Move” opens strong, with their style encapsulated: dense, relevant wordplay riding a beat that stands out among the strongest Lif’s ever rhymed over – and that is saying a lot. “Hard tracks remind me of blacks with scarred backs/These are facts drowning in the swamp like Artax/Boston to Fairfax, chill, watch Miramax flicks/Then I start to get sick/Take 39 like the Hale-Bopp/Four teachers, one male cop–then the atmosphere’ll get real hot,” rhymes Lif, before Akrobatik steps up to announce that “My flow is like torrential downpours making steel rot/We pros whose credentials drown yours on the real blocks …”

It’s too easy to just see Lif as a political rapper, because, frankly, it’s the part of his arsenal that’s gotten the most attention. His Emergency Rations EP happened to be the best critique of administration policy to ever come from the music industry, right down to the cover art, which crystallized the dualistic nature of Bush’s quasi-liberatory actions in the East. But now, after Bush’s decisive victory in 2004, the domestic opposition is settling in for more of the New World Order, whose underlying values shine through in a lot of commercial hip-hop.

Having said what he had to on that subject back when it was necessary, Lif has turned his critical eye toward whack MCs, as noted in “People 4 Prez”: “Yo ho hoes are the popular scum/Some emcees are nice, but the key word’s ‘some’/Others suffer from suckerdom/Some succumb to a rough rhyme and some powerful drums–run!”

Perceptionists warm it up and slow it down a wee bit for the ladies on “Love Letters,” one of three tracks produced by Willie Evans Jr. of Asamov. Another Evans production is the title track, a masterpiece of pedagogy in rap that invokes the strong, vibrant lineage of black dialogue – Langston Hughes, King, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Grandma Moses, Huey Newton, Chuck D, KRS-One – in opposition to the overt nihilism on display in most hip-hop, while an anonymous white man (possibly “the man”) laments on the hook that “Traditional education seems only to systematically perpetuate their cultural plight.”

Perceptionists do tap the White House one good time with “Memorial Day,” written from the perspective of a disgruntled soldier, with a chorus that plays up the alleged failure to find WMD in Iraq and verses between verses of disillusion that are quite similar to the words of real veterans of this war and others.

On “Frame Rupture,” El-P contributes the kind of futuristic big-band beat that made the Murdochs jock Rawkus all those years ago. This ought to be a crossover hit – the kind of track made for open-top high-speed cruising, early morning, en route to doing the kind of business that gets men up while others are still asleep – another highlight of the record. Each MC gets in one of the toughest verses of the year, starting with Lif: “I break sinks – eat formica right away/Rip a cipher, lay quick think of Perestroika Day/With a flair disappear for a century/Come back to present time through a rhyme in your memory/Kreuger maneuver, Hans Gruber Luger/Slide through the guard dog’s bowl of Eukenuba/Hoover Dam vs. Ram-Man/Outcome: rapid water, rabid author/Louis Pasteurs’ your Pasteur/Peace, catch you in the after/Bloody acetate’s rising from the lake – lucid.”

Perceptionists are surely the only group ever to boast cameos by Guru on one track (“Party Hard”) and Humpty Hump on the next (“Career Finders”), which should go down as one of the best Hump riffs to date: “Ok, let’s see Mr. Disser/Mr. 9 millimeter punk fixer … So this is what we’ve got/You’re good at pointing out who’s a bitch and who’s not/You ain’t scared, down to shoot up the spot/Have you thought about about the military–or a cop?/You’d make a good bank robber/You want to be the start-shit man/Well, how about a hitman?” Why not, indeed.

Definitive Jux Records:

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