Future talk with a rap classic

Post-backpacker, pre-net-slacker rap classic Mr. Lif plays Under Pressure’s closing party tomorrow night. We spoke to him about cutting off his signature dreads and working on five records at a time.

Mr. Lif. Photo by Jason Tang

Post-backpacker, pre-net-slacker rap classic Mr. Lif graduated Mo’Mega-cum-laude from the esteemed inaugural class of Def Jux records in 2006, just prior to the juggernaut indie rap label’s sudden demise.

If you consider four years a lifetime in rap — and most do, including the Boston-bred MC — doing the math since Lif’s last LP, 2009’s I Heard It Today will prove you more jaded than dated. Granted, four years ago you hadn’t heard of A$AP, or Wiz, or Wacka….but in four years from now, will it matter?

Lif, admittedly somewhat reclusive these last years, doesn’t even sweat it. He barely considers breathing the same air as these industry players, but has been taking the time to make sure his shit is up to muster. Nonchalantly, Lif mentions playing to a crowd of 10,000 at Red Rocks last week with Thievery Corporation as a good omen for what’s next.

Darcy MacDonald: Are you actively recording a new record?
Mr. Lif: I have five records. I have a new solo full length, I have two solo EPs. (Fellow Boston MC and long-time accomplice) Akrobatik and I are making a new Perceptionists album — well, it might be an EP, we’re not sure yet. And then I have a record where it’s me and a Balkan brass band. Like, I’m rappin’ over Balkan brass.

DM: How did that one come to be?
Lif: This cat Devon from Seattle hit us up to bring us together to play a folk festival. He wanted something unique, so he put us together. We loved the sound so much that we were like, yo, let’s put a record together. Next thing you know we were living in a house together up in northern Cali, in the Bay Area. It’s a beautiful thing. (I’m finishing that) at my lab.

I gotta vault, man, and I’m slow-cooking everything. There will be a (solo) album far more ambitious than its predecessor.

DM: I Heard It Today was a cool record but on a political headline tip, it was maybe too current.
Lif: That was one of the challenges of that record. It was supposed to be a record to chronicle that time, because it was such an interesting moment in American history. We had the economic collapse. We had the first black president. You know, the housing collapse, which triggered so many things — you know, like, it was tough. I opted to write on that record things which were issues then and which I thought would continue to be issues in the future.

DM: What would you say to salty cats who question your relevance, in terms of your time and place, coming up to play a free show at a festival like this, where previous headliners have been guys like Smiff-N-Wessun last year, or J-Live the year before that?
Lif: Man, I appreciate being in that kinda company, but why would I even talk about (my relevance)? Why would I waste my energy thinking about that?

I know what I’m doing over here. I know artistically what my journey is and I’m focused on that. I mean, yeah, sure, any artist that hasn’t really dropped a record on a big label since ’06 isn’t considered at the peak of their relevance in 2013, but that doesn’t apply to my approach.

People like that can come to the show and tell me if they’re not moved by it, and if not, I have more work to do. But I’m on a path, and the path is leading to someplace positive and someplace powerful. And even if it’s not powerful to anyone else, it’s powerful to me. And I feel like that energy will radiate.

DM: So you cut your dreads.
Lif: Yeah, brother, I cut those in ’09. I was in the shadows at that time. After I finished touring for I Heard It Today, I just came back to the crib and cut ’em! But now I’m definitely lettin’ it grow out a little. See where it takes me, you know. I’m not sure yet.

The locks were a signature of me and my brand so it was a big decision to cut them off, but when I let them go, I couldn’t have lived with them another day. It was definitely time.

But now is an interesting era, too. There’s something else going on up there and I’m not sure what but I definitely got some hair up there now and it feels dope. ■

Mr. Lif headlines the Under Pressure festival closing party, with guests Journeymen, Homebased, Monk-E, Ghetto Youth, Boombap Cats ft. Logic Johnson, Masia One and KIDS, on Sunday, Aug. 11, 9:30 p.m., free


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