Tuesday, October 10, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1682: Mr. Lif

Welcome back to the CD Odyssey where, to the surprise of exactly no one, another music review awaits you.

Disc 1682 is…Mo’ Mega

Artist: Mr. Lif

Year of Release: 2006

What’s up with the Cover?  Giant Head Cover alert! Mr. Lif looks very thoughtful and composed here, like a professor of English Literature maybe. Would I listen to the words of this man? Reader, I would.

How I Came To Know It: My friend Ross put me on to Mr. Lif, and even bought me one of his albums (2002’s “I Phantom” reviewed back at Disc 1232). Needless to say I liked what I heard and have expanded my collection since.

How It Stacks Up: It wasn’t a massive expansion, and I now have two Mr. Lif albums. Of the two, “Mo’ Mega” is the superior record, so #1!

Rating: 5 stars

At the risk of sounding out of touch with the kids – possibly even being labelled grumpy – I must confess that the majority of modern rap does not agree with me. There is just too much of that ever-present style that is akin to a descending mumble, ending predictably at the bar over and over again. Like someone’s talking in their sleep while dreaming of how they can’t find their home room.

Coming out in 2006, “Mo’ Mega” isn’t exactly the era of concern for me, but it is nudging up against it. Fortunately, there was nothing to worry about this time. Mr. Lif is a revelation, with a flow that floats across the top of a beat like Muhammad Ali’s butterfly, stinging you with thoughtful rhymes and insightful commentary.

There is a nasally tone to Mr. Lif’s vocals that aren’t usually in my rap wheelhouse, but the way he floats that high flow across the beat is inspired. He has a Rakim-like quality of knowing when to drop a rhyme on the end of a line and went to let it artfully flow over a little, like a taste of champagne after you’ve fired the cork.

The rhymes, sometimes internal, sometimes couplets, sometimes three or four in a row skipping one on top of another are too artful to quote (it would be a crime minus the beats) leaving your brain in a state of eager wakefulness. You know something great has happened and feel a little bad that you’re not quick-witted enough to sing along. I didn’t find myself keeping up with Mr. Lif, I felt pulled along.

There is nothing playful about these tracks, and even seemingly lighthearted metaphors like “The Fries” quickly goes from observations on fast food into dark explorations of disposable culture writ-large.

And while I would’ve been perfectly happy with just Mr. Lif’s rhyming talents on this record, you get so much more on the arrogant (but aptly named) “Mo’ Mega”. The samples and beats on this record are both a throwback to a golden age and also the cutting edge of production. On “Murs Iz My Manager” we’ve got the funkiest bassline since EPMD was housin’, combined with some well-placed trumpet licks. This shit drops hard and oh, yeah – Mr. Lif is every bit up to it with a flow so furious Big Daddy Kane’d be proud.

One of the record’s secret weapons is the production of El-P (of Run the Jewels fame). El-P would go on to become one half of one of rap’s greatest duos, but in 2006 he was busy taking records like this to a whole other level. Even the album’s lyrically weak tunes (booty-call “Long Distance” comes to mind) is still held together with great production and sample decisions.  

The sheer range on the record also impresses. Lyrically we have everything from sex tunes to social justice, while the beats range through Latin rhythms, Jazz licks, RnB, and everything in between. Mr. Lif wants you to listen to ALL the styles, and then shows you how they can be combined and made better through inspired metamorphosis.

My biggest complaint about this record is that it is only 40 minutes long, and after every listen I felt a momentary frustration knowing it was over, but even then there is a solution. Just set this one on repeat and kick back, baby. You’re welcome.

Best tracks: All tracks

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