Mr. Lif, occasional member of the Perceptionists and sociopolitical MC extraordinaire, first made waves with his Def Jux debut Enter The Colossus, a return to the style and philosophy of conscious hip-hop like Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy at the height of the era of bling. A slew of impressive recordings have followed as the Bush administration provided more fuel for Lif’s fire—I Phantom is still probably the best. Largely produced by El-P and featuring guest spots by Aesop Rock and Blueprint, Mr. Lif’s Mo’ Mega keeps the bar set pretty high.
El-P takes his own work with Aesop Rock on as a starting point; the first half-dozen or so tracks of Mo’ Mega are marked by industrial rock-y clanging like on Rock’s Bazooka Tooth (Jay Z’s “99 Problems” is another familiar reference point). El-P layers multiple vocal tracks upon one another, creating a sense of near-constant delivery; it’s tempting to compare Lif to storytellers like Slick Rick or Nas, though that’s not totally fair considering the studio trickery. Regardless, tracks like “Collapse” and “Brothaz” start Mo’ Mega out on a sharp, moody note that befits his tirades (e.g. “The Bush administration is nothin’, fuck ’em…Ya knew the flood waters was comin’…”). Even the Tribe Called Quest-style funk of “The Fries”—probably the first, or at least the most virulent, anti-fast food hip-hop song I’ve ever heard—devolves into a spooky tribal breakdown a la the Liars’ recent Drums Not Dead if it were meshed with the theme song from The Shield.
Things shift around track six, with a self-produced duet with labelmate Murs called “Murz Is My Manager.” Turning his sights on pop culture with cheap shots at Paris Hilton, Gwen Stefani, Sean Carter, and the Grammys, the song is breezy and fun; too bad it’s followed by the fart and B.O. joke-laden dancehall track “Washitup!,” which, along with the gratuitous and creepy sexual prowess boast-fest “Long Distance,” is the only real misstep. Not unlike the Coup’s recent work, the innuendo-based songs jar uncomfortably with the overtly political material.
Which is not to say that Lif just drops slogans (although he drops plenty); the album ends on its highest note, an ode to his child dubbed “For You.” As Lif recounts his career, he decides that “if there’s one thing in this life that I hope to achieve, it’s to give you all my love and make you strong before I leave.” Over a mauled lullaby and the album’s tightest beats, Lif finally succeeds at incorporating a perspective other than righteous indignation into Mo’ Mega. It’s as delightful as it is surprising that Lif succeeds at tenderness where he flubbed at humor and eroticism.