By Noah Hubbell
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I care a lot about politics," says Akrobatik, "but I don't believe in the political process."
The Perceptionists' MC remembers sitting in a Chinese restaurant in John Kerry's home town of Boston on Election Day 2004 and being "almost oblivious" to what was going on with what many were calling the most important election of his lifetime. Sure, he'd done his part and voted earlier that day, but there remained a lingering apathy, an abiding cynicism that he just couldn't shake.
"I hate that George Bush won, and I voted for John Kerry, in fact," he reveals. "But I did so just out of feeling that it was an obligation, and not because I was excited about it. I don't feel that John Kerry truly represents us any more than George Bush. I can't imagine Kerry sitting down to speak with me or anyone that I know. Frankly, I think he'd be scared if he met us."
Although political disenfranchisement has become commonplace among the young, these aren't the sort of sentiments you would expect to hear from a member of the Perceptionists. After all, everyone from the Village Voice to the Alternative Press has anointed the group -- Akrobatik and fellow Bostonians Mr. Lif and DJ Fakts One -- as the inheritors of Public Enemy's agitprop throne, a throwback to the days when hip-hop used its power to urge a unified political uprising.
A cursory listen to Black Dialogue, the Perceptionists' debut, suggests that the act is indeed PE's ideological heir. From the hypocrisies and atrocities inherent in our war on terrorism to the dehumanizing effects of institutionalized conformity in the workplace, no topic is off the table. On the chorus of the incendiary "Memorial Day," Akrobatik wonders, "Where are the Weapons of Mass Destruction?/We've been looking for months and haven't found nothing." Mr. Lif, whose smooth, trebly flow provides a nice counterpoint to Akrobatik's baritone, declares, "We've seen it in Iraq and the Congo/America's motto: kill their leader and then make a stronghold."
But the Perceptionists aren't just about WMD and rampant imperialism. "I do get tired of people focusing on the political side of our work," says Akrobatik. "We've been talking for twenty minutes now, and all that we've spoken of is politics. That's definitely a part of us, and that's an important part of us, but it isn't all that there is to us."
In fact, the Perceptionists wrap their diatribes in 360-degree portraits of everyday life. Party-starters such as "Blo" and "Party Hard," which features legendary Gang Starr MC Guru, offer a glimpse of what the Perceptionists do when they're not fretting over neo-conservatives. And braggadocio battle tracks such as "Frame Ruptures" perfectly complement the Perceptionists' live shows, which seethe with the kind of vitality and polish that are generally lacking in hip-hop, underground or independent.
This on-stage chemistry has developed over a ten-year friendship. Both MCs grew up in Boston's tight-knit hip-hop community and come from families with roots in Barbados (Lif is first-generation; Akrobatik is second). "We came from a similar background, but my music is a lot different than Lif's music," Akrobatik says. "The most beautiful and the most unique thing about the Perceptionists is how we're able to combine those two sounds and those two perspectives."
Their enduring friendship and shared cultural background are evident throughout Black Dialogue and allow the two to tackle personal and political issues as a group and remain on the same page. In addition to the more polemic songs and the live favorites, the Perceptionists are also able to take it down a notch and talk about the pains of unrequited love ("Love Letters"), the stress and humiliation of menial labor ("5 O'Clock") and the current state of hip-hop ("Career Finders"). And while their taunts at George Bush and company have been getting them the most press, it's the more subtle and nuanced messages on Black Dialogue that set them apart.
"We're talking about things that you won't hear from other acts," Akrobatik points out. "How many hip-hop artists do you hear talk about the fact that they've held nine-to-five jobs? It isn't something that rappers talk about, but it's an important part of daily life. What I see in the mainstream right now -- whether we're talking about music or what's on TV -- isn't representative of the black experience; it isn't really representative of any experience, to be honest. When was the last time you saw or heard something truly beneficial on the radio or TV? Something inspiring? And if you did, someone probably paid to have it on the air."
When pressed about this lack of representation in music, Akrobatik contends that "once hip-hop grew up and became pop, it got eaten up by the corporate cash cow," he says. "Now it's more of a media tool to sell shit. And we let that happen."
Despite all of this negative opposition, Akrobatik remains optimistic about the future of his generation.
"One album by one group is not going to change the world," he concludes. "But hopefully we can influence some of our people to open up their eyes."