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Mr. Lif interview

| June 1, 2009

Neighborhood Watch


When speaking with seasoned indie MC Mr. Lif , it’s surprising to hear that he hasn’t been keeping up with the news. After all, this Boston-bred artist, born Jeffrey Haynes, has been best recognized for the vigilance and yen for social justice within his well-crafted raps. What he has done best with songs like “Home Of The Brave” or “Brothaz” is uncover hidden truths in stories and stats about the Bush administration, corrupt cops, and various other shameful newsmakers. But these days, Lif has opted to just tune out.

Appearing: Tuesday, June 9th at Abbey Pub in Chicago.

“You caught me going through one of these phases where I haven’t really been able to watch the news,” he admits from his home in Philadelphia. “I know that there’s hugely important shit going on right now, but I don’t know, man, sometimes I just have to step away from the programming.”

Always one to analyze the media in all of its incarnations, Lif has even found it difficult to keep up with news about President Obama. It’s not that he has completely ignored the end of the Dubya era and the dawn of a new political age — on a soulful, Internet-only track “Obama,” Lif no doubt expresses hope yet he can’t help but to also be pessimistic about the new president. On the powerful chorus he observes, “You’ve got us feeling conflict in our heart/will we see a real change/or just another false start?”

After updating Lif about the president’s plans to completely withdraw troops from Iraq by 2010, he sounds skeptical. For his decade-plus as a recording artist, seeing through governmental and media smoke screens has been second nature. But Lif is exhausted by it all.

“I think that the driving force behind this current withdrawal from the media for me is knowing that I’m the last to know,” he says. “We are the last to know! That information is so dissected and engineered by the time it hits our ears. And then every single day on the news is just more quick-tempo information about how the country’s financially imploding.

“Then there’s just the guilt about being one of the many that fell for this whole credit system that we have where there’s all these millions of people buying shit that they don’t technically have the money for and how we’ve just accepted that as a normal way of life. It’s just all such a mind fuck.”

With Lif’s third LP, I Heard It Today (released on his own Bloodbot Tactical Enterprises imprint), the MC focuses less on responding to the sensationalism of the media and more on listening to the voices of everyday, hard-working Americans. But Lif hasn’t abandoned his vigilance in the process. Songs like the uptempo “What About Us” represent some of his most relatable material yet, as he verbally lashes greedy CEOs while also speaking on the frustration of looking at our bank statements. As he raps in the chorus, “We’re at our limit/now enough is enough/You’re sittin’ on billions of dollars, but what about us?/Little health care/just enough change to ride the muthafuckin’ bus/What about us?”

Living in Philly’s working-class Fishtown community the past few years, Mr. Lif befriended neighbors who went through the same hardships President Obama talks about with so-called “Main Street” America — people who have lost their homes and jobs seemingly out of the blue. All Lif had to do was take a look around his own ‘hood to see how this so-called recession has manifested.

“Philly really is the perfect city for me to make an album like I Heard It Today, because the city is always so raw,” he says. “There’s so many segments of the city that are in disrepair.”

Like him, a decent amount of Fishtown residents are recent occupants of the once-industrial area. They may not all be “blue collar,” but, as he says, “everyone in my neighborhood works hard to get what they have and they work hard to keep what they’ve got.”

Unfortunately, some of his neighbors haven’t been able to keep what they’ve earned. On the album’s synthy lead single and title track, vocal snippets about the housing crisis and economic downturn are heard placed between his verses. One man can be heard, “This home is supposed to be a part of my future . . . it’s all fallen down.”

As Lif explains of the voices heard on the song, “Those are people from my neighborhood, a lot of which are from my block, who are having tough times and kind of relishing an opportunity to speak.”

Turning his attention away from the TV and more toward the street was the driving force not only for the lead single, but for the album as a whole. “To me, that was the real value of doing this project, because it was this humbling time in American history where I got to really capitalize on my environment being that it brought me and my neighbors closer together in making this record.”

Before hard times hit Fishtown and the rest of the country, though, a near-death experience also helped Mr. Lif deliver arguably his strongest album. Back in December 2006, when his tour bus left San Diego one night en route to Scottsdale, Arizona, their sleep-deprived driver accidentally drove off a 40-foot cliff. Lif, his DJ Big Wiz, The Coup, and others onboard were thrown around like rag dolls before the bus landed hard in a boulder pit.

Max Herman

For the full story, grab the June issue of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.


Category: Features, Monthly

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