Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mr. Lif

  • Emergency Rations [Definitive Jux, 2002] A-
  • I Phantom [Definitive Jux, 2002] A
  • Sleepyheads [Thought Wizard, 2003] A-
  • Mo' Mega [Def Jux, 2006] ***
  • I Heard It Today [Bloodbot Tactical Enterprises, 2009] ***
  • Don't Look Down [Mello Music, 2016] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Emergency Rations [Definitive Jux, 2002]
A funny guy, an angry guy, he sets up a concept album with a concept EP that ostensibly plays off his disappearance, from where he ain't gonna tell you 'cause you really ought to know. In fact, it's an excuse to drop random science about the place of hip hop in the military-industrial complex. A-

I Phantom [Definitive Jux, 2002]
I've long suspected that a musically pleasurable album would betray everything the misanthropes at Def Jux stood for--their principles, their vision, their neuroses. But all it took was a normal rapper, which Mr. Lif is--for a rapper, abnormally so. However autobiographical this song cycle, which begins with a stickup and ends with a nuclear holocaust, it evinces not only conceptual ambition but detailed knowledge of what it's like to work a job and raise a family. It's underpinned by an analysis more Boots Riley than Talib Kweli or Steve Earle. And it fleshes out its cohesive narrative and cogent ideas with beats that respect the spare antipop ethos without abjuring such wayward rhythm elements as femme chorus, bass-drum-whoop jam, and $20 synth loop. A

Sleepyheads [Thought Wizard, 2003]
"Unreleased and hard to find," 1995-2002--and as such, choppy. But also, undie or not, catchy. With his neat timbre and big fat dreads, Lif specializes in black science, but that doesn't mean he rhymes as consistently as, to cite one freestyle target, Jay-Z. "I burn off your flesh like David Koresh" wicked, "I'm getting physical like fitness" not, "Niggers want their frankincense and myrrh back" complex, "These type of facts I don't tend to shun/So I press into the universe to defend the sun" unnatural. As if in compensation, his beats hook and hold--try the banjo and guitar that anchor the old Grand Royal 12-inch. A-

Mo' Mega [Def Jux, 2006]
When world death threatens, don't expect El-P's beats to lift anyone's spirits for the struggle ahead ("Brothaz," "Murs Iz My Manager"). ***

I Heard It Today [Bloodbot Tactical Enterprises, 2009]
Alt-rap against monetarism, with beats to match ("What About Us?" "Welcome to the World"). ***

Don't Look Down [Mello Music, 2016]
Still articulating every word in his forties, he drops rationalist science and life-or-death mysticism over loops he's proud are old-school ("Pounds of Pressure," "Mission Accomplished") **