At its best, Mr. Lif's music conveys the urgency and immediacy of dispatches from the front line. That's particularly true of "Memorial Day," a song Lif and his cohorts (longtime partner in rhyme Akrobatik and DJ Fakts One) in The Perceptionists unveiled triumphantly during their recent tour opening for fellow Definitive Jux all-star Murs. The song doesn't exactly break new thematic ground. For example, Akrobatik's verse—in which he enlists for a predictably disillusioning pretend tour of duty in Iraq—echoes Eminem's "Mosh" in noting the bitter irony of the Bush administration's barnful of squawking hawks agitating for a war they'd never fight themselves. But there's something about the song's kinetic, anthemic thrust that makes it considerably more than the sum of its formidable parts. To paraphrase John Kerry's comments on the Iraq war, it's the right song in the right place at the right time, a blast of righteous anger that plugs directly into the countercultural zeitgeist.
If Definitive Jux has largely assumed Rawkus' mantle as the epicenter of underground, independent hip-hop, then Ak and Lif are the label's answer to Black Star, a pair of progressive solo artists out to save hip-hop—and the world—one dope track at a time. Akrobatik and Lif may lack Black's Star's poeticism and Mos Def's leading-man charisma, but they share that super-duo's social and political consciousness, ambition, vision, and willingness to assume the mantle of leadership. They also share Black Star's strong, unabashed streak of black pride, which finds its most potent expression in the album's title track, a defiantly proud celebration both of Ebonics and of the singular, simultaneously imitated and denigrated aspects of the black experience. On "Black Dialogue," Akrobatik occasionally sounds more like a mom than like a ferocious MC ("Master yourself for maximum outreach potential / Respect that you get from that will grow exponential"). The refreshingly wholesome self-help vibe continues on "5 O'Clock," which celebrates the transcendent in the everyday in addition to giving listeners a four-step plan to self-fulfillment. But man can't live on substance, political commentary, and sound advice alone, and The Perceptionists cuts loose on "Party Hard," an uptempo jam featuring Guru and Camu Tao. And Shock G pops up for "Career Finders," where the Perceptionists and the man who gave the world the Humpty Dance unite to dispense professional advice to wack MCs who'd be better off with more suitable occupations.
Black Dialogue occasionally missteps. "Love Letters" and "Breathe In The Sun" come off as a little sappy, and El-P's chilly production doesn't always mesh well with the endearingly geeky MCs. But on the whole, Black Dialogue emerges as a triumph, an impassioned 12-track hip-hop manifesto even a mother could love, assuming of course, she hasn't affixed a Bush/Cheney sticker on the bumper of the family station wagon.