Mr. Lif could be riding in a van between Carbondale, Ill., and Iowa City, Iowa, or making up the difference between Dallas and Denton, Texas, folded between the seats with a portable DVD player. He might have his shoes off and his thickly dreaded bouffant hairstyle at ease. He could be looking and feeling relaxed as he cracks up over an episode of Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force, where Master Shake, Meatwad and Frylock get mixed up in a dumping scandal with some angry trees who use their neighbor Carl’s skin for Post-It notes. What he’s not doing is bitterly thumbing through the latest copies of Mother Jones or Ad Busters.
“We’re straight comedians. There’s always something funny going on,” Lif explains over the phone. “Do you have the third season of Aqua Teen Hunger Force? You’ve got to give it some love. Oh, hell yeah, I love it. It’s so ingenious. I’m a big fan of ‘Revenge of the Trees.’”
This is likely not how most fans or music critics envision Mr. Lif, Akrobatik and DJ Fakts One—the hip-hop triumvirate that forms the white-hot supergroup The Perceptionists—to live, low-brow loose and engrossed in the madcap escapades of food-based cartoon characters. They picture Lif, particularly, stewing in his own juices, raving mad about the latest governmental atrocity, the newest injustices and every last word of the blatant lip service perceived to be coming out of the White House at a mile-a-minute. They picture him cooking up strong-minded, far-left-wing opinions about every misstep Dubya’s ever made and finally ringing true to all of the proclamations that he and The Perceptionists are the next Public Enemy.
“I’ve been kind of gritting my teeth about all of that,” he said. “People try to pigeonhole you.”
Released last month on New York City’s Definitive Jux label, the group’s Black Dialogue is limited to a well-below-normal quota of two political cuts, instead choosing to fill the album with party beats and love songs. It’s still easy to hear references to the deeply-felt politics of the three Boston rappers, but they hide themselves in the hidden pockets of songs rather than taking their usual place at the front-and-center. This move to a more subtle approach has been noteworthy enough for the Village Voice and Urb to write feature stories remarking on the shift. But Lif says that letting the perceived truth about himself become reality has never been his desire.
“If people want me to write a political song, the best thing they can do is not tell me they want to hear about politics, because I will go a 180 on that ass real quick,” he said. “They didn’t expect love songs, so I wrote love songs. I’d never felt like I could write a love song before.”
And the reason for keeping a distance from the Iraq war, only touched on in “Memorial Day”? The cutting look at the fighting from a soldier’s perspective (“Where are the weapons of mass destruction?/ We’ve been looking for months, and we ain’t found nothin’/ Please Mr. President, tell us somethin’/ We knew from the beginning that your ass was bluffin’!”) was an easy one for Lif.
“I finally made a record about what our lives are about,” he says. “Bashing the government is pretty popular right now. That’s why I don’t want to do it. The gig is up. We all know what’s happening.
“I’m not a politician and I’m not going to be on CNN. I’m a happy guy. I laugh a lot when I’m with my friends. People are shocked that [the new album is] fun.”
The Perceptionists formed just last year, taking three successful underground artists and putting them together to make a group as universal as its sound suggests. Meeting in the middle of the road between club-happy and intellectually relevant, The Perceptionists dial up a robust blend of distended beats and smart, incisive rhymes like divining rods to the crux of an idea. Black Dialogue addresses the phenomenon of black culture being robbed from and emulated more than any other, and how most of the rap world is overcrowded with playas wanting to plug a life of materialism, thuggery and vice, turning “art” into the lowest common denominator. Lif comes off as a keen watchdog with valuable observations rooted in his own passionate truth, not fabricated bravado.
Unlike most MCs in it for themselves, doing anything to get them the title of bling-est on the block, Lif, Akrobatik (whose mission, as explained on his Website, is to “help change hip-hop and the perceived image of the black male for the better”) and DJ Fakts One wish for nothing for themselves, but a better world for everyone.
“I try to stay away from making generalizations,” says Lif when asked his take on the current state of hip-hop. “I guess, if I got into it only for the money, I’d be trying to do whatever is hot right now too. But that’s not why I do this. It’s self-therapy for me and it’s what I do for fun.”
THE PERCEPTIONISTS Egos, 668 S. State, Tuesday May 3, 9:30 p.m. 800-888-8499