CAMBRIDGE -- The sweltering heat in the Middle East Downstairs on Tuesday night was due to the steamy weather, but it would surprise no one in the sold-out crowd to hear it was generated by the furious lyrics from red-hot rhymer Mr. Lif .
Former Bostonian Lif ( a.k.a. Jeffrey Haynes) may have moved to Philadelphia, but the politically minded rapper proved he's still holding it down for the Bean in an energetic hour long set that touched on everything from his low opinion of politicians to his high praise for the New England Patriots.
With his mass of dreadlocks waving every which way and his DJ Big Wiz keeping the spare, atmospheric beats rolling, Lif celebrated the release of his latest CD, ``Mo' Mega," and dipped into his densely worded catalog for a show that was as thoughtful as it was pumping.
New tracks like the reggae-tinged ``Washitup!" meshed nicely with older tunes like ``Live From the Plantation, " Lif's satirical commentary on the life of cube slaves, and his head-bobbing treatise on being young, black, strong, and smart, ``New Man Theme ."
He also threw in a few skits, including one during the smackdown ``Status " in which he goofed on trying to get into a swanky nightclub with his less-than-trendy duds.
The real highs came with the most intense political rhymes, however. Those included his contemptuous take on the war on terror, ``Home of the Brave," and a seamless segue into the dark, muted horns of ``The Way," in which he opined about the transporting powers of music.
With the packed crowd hopping to the beat, Lif closed up with ``Brothaz, " a dramatic tune about the insidious nature of racism and the culture of apathy surrounding crises for people of color -- from African famine to victims of Hurricane Katrina to cycles of ghetto desolation. It was explosive and reminiscent of a time when hip-hop still tackled big ideas without sacrificing beat savvy or intelligence. Lif proves it still can.
Opener Cage -- with his almost emo-infused style and dark rhymes about child abuse, teen death, and drug addiction -- was a love him or hate him proposition. Many in the crowd loved him, and he's to be commended for at least straying from the norm.
Others on the undercard included Elemental Zazen , Yakballz , and Camu Tao , whose screechy, wide-eyed, seemingly comedic style conjured images of what Chris Tucker might sound like as a rapper.