There are a number of crucial elements that have marked the bright career of hip-hop's Mr. Lif. Among them, of course, are his fierce intelligence and his vivid verbal gymnastics. But what's most striking is his refusal to compromise his artistic independence for the sake of that big corporate paycheck.
It's obvious by now that Lif could easily have signed with a major label and ended up in the studio with Timbaland or the Neptunes and maybe had Mary J. Blige singing a gratuitous hook. But no, he has remained on indie label Def Jux. And he's produced coherent, compelling records like his revealing new disc, ``Mo' Mega," out today, which continues his string of stellar sets as a solo act and as a member of the Perceptionists.
From the opening salvo through the closing, ``For You," on which the MC shows his sensitive side, Lif dissects the vagaries and vulgarities of contemporary culture, especially the numbing power of corporate America and how it strips the individual of identity and anesthetizes the soul. The government is, to Lif, the Mega of mega corporations. He even goes so far in ``The Fries" to take on the Big Mac and the Happy Meal as the true opiates of the masses, symbols of consumer culture run amok.
Lif has evened out his flow throughout; the rhymes don't come at you in his usual staccato bursts. He also relies more on narration here (especially on the troubled ``Lookin' In," which examines the disintegration of family and its crushing effects on identity).
Lif (the longtime Bostonian is now based in Philadelphia) emerges with some surprisingly explicit verse but none of the tawdry exploitation so common to hip-hop knuckleheads.
He pulls off a smirky spoof of the entertainment business with fellow indie rap icon Murs on ``Murs Iz My Manager." The track is produced by Edan in funk-gone-ballistic mode. The rest of the disc is produced by El-P, and, for hop-hop purists, it's definitely going to sound overly busy and somewhat distracting. Regardless, many of the lyrics here are personal, almost confessional details that Lif usually resists.
That alone makes for an impassioned work.