Music News

Mo' Substance

Mr. Lif is a throwback to a time when MCs rapped about things that mattered. So it should come as no surprise that Lif, aka Jeffrey Haynes, often cites Chuck D, Rakim and KRS-ONE as his primary influences. As commercial rap continues to devolve into something resembling the World Wrestling Federation, it is refreshing to hear someone comment about the times we live in. A Boston-raised, Philly-based MC, Mr. Lif has built a steady fan base by challenging listeners to think, whether he's attacking President Bush's War on Terror or broadcasting "Live From the Plantation." On Mo' Mega, his latest Def Jux release, Lif weighs in on everything from genocide in Darfur to female genital hygiene. He recently discussed the new album with us and offered his thoughts on the state of the union.

Westword: In the intro to the CD's booklet, you say "mo' mega" is "the juxtaposition of the slave and the elite, with no common ground between the two." Can you explain?

I took "mo'," which is slang created by the African-American, and applied it to mean the modern-day slave, which is all of us who function under the power of the 1 percent of people who have the extreme wealth of the nation. The "mega" represents the owners of the mega-corporations, the mega-powerful, who decide what the world we live in is going to be like.

On the song "Brothaz," you take a critical stance toward President Bush for his policies in Darfur and New Orleans. What bothers you the most about this administration?

Just the overall levels of deception that became so evident during his unfortunate tenure. I think that for myself and many Americans, we will remember this is as the era that the jig was up, that the government really doesn't work for us. Fuck idealism. This cat really just came like, "I'm going to knock down a couple of buildings, sacrifice two thousand of y'all, and then I'm going to run around the world, killing mad other people. I have an agenda, it's just straight coldhearted business shit, to the ultimate level." I just think he really let us know what America is about.

El-P produces eight of eleven tracks on the new record. What makes this collaboration work?

We think in terms of creating timeless records. You might not listen to it at first, but you might end up loving it a month or two later. We're dedicated to taking the time to craft things that will have longevity, hopefully.

How is this record more personal and different than previous releases?

I'm putting more of myself out there, my actual real life out there; I'm not as stoic. When you consider a conceptual sociopolitical-type artist, it is very stoic and castrating; it almost feels like you're not human. I always pride myself on, like, "Motherfuckers be ready to hear anything." That's why early on in my career, when I was labeled a battle rapper, I was like, "Okay, I'm going to be more political, or I'd like do something within the context of battle rap." Take a song like "Farmhand" -- I'm going to use banjos on a battle record. In my own subtle ways, I like to throw curveballs out there. Ultimately, if I get everything to go my way, people will be like, "That guy can write a good song about anything. Anything he felt, he could articulate." I would feel successful if I got that kind of title connected to me.

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James Mayo