Songs You Should Know: Mr. Lif (feat. Blacastan) – “Whizdom”

It’s difficult to imagine that Mr. Lif, longtime principal of Boston’s indie hip hop scene, might remain silent during one of the most turbulent election seasons in recent memory. Mr. Lif’s group with Akrobatic and DJ Fakts One, the Perceptionists, released Black Dialogue over a decade ago. That record’s trenchant denunciation of the Bush administration continues to resonate for indie hip hop fans. Some of Mr. Lif’s peers — particularly El-P and Killer Mike in Run the Jewels — have been outspoken and present recently, but the Boston MC has remained more low-key. Outside of the occasional appearance with Thievery Corporation, Mr. Lif has maintained a low profile over the past half decade.

Word came via Twitter  just a few weeks ago that Mr. Lif’s first solo record in seven years, Don’t Look Down, drops this coming April. For those of us waiting for new work from one of Boston’s foremost MCs, it was satisfying news.

The tone of the new album’s lead single “Whizdom” is not as strident as Mr. Lif’s more politically incisive work like “Memorial Day,” from Black Dialogue. But the new track reflects a wizened MC on the north end of thirty-five. A hypnotic calliopean groove clops quickly to open the piece, countered by Mr. Lif’s sluggish flow. The verse unfolds in surrealistic imagery of unsutured wounds falling open for spirits to infiltrate Lif’s present day, delving into the trippy soundscape of producer Edan’s beat. But the verse plays out as a testament to Lif’s knowledge and self-discovery, as “Questions of ‘how’ accumulate like sweat on your brow.” Mr. Lif has turned inward, but he’s as sharp, resonant, and as deliberate as ever.

Hartford, CT’s preeminent MC Blacastan closes the track with a guest spot. The ranging references of Blacastan’s verse reach out, as lines like “the vaccine enters your bloodstream through headphone cords,” puts the onus on the listener, placing Lif’s soul-searching in relief. In that way, Blacastan leads us home. In 2005, the Perceptionists asked the president what he was doing to better the world, but in 2016 Lif suggests the questions are better addressed at ourselves.

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