Mr. Lif has held it down for nearly a decade, and as one of the most thoughtful and revered young MCs in the game today, he has had a fruitful relationship with the fiercely independent NYC-based Def Jux label. His full-length debut, 2002's I Phantom, was a conceptual story album, though Lif's vision was more similar to postmodern fiction like Haruki Murakami than the perhaps more traditionally hiphop-akin pulp tales of, say, Iceberg Slim. On I Phantom, perspectives shift and crack rapidly, dreams are entered and exited, and the minutia of fluorescent bludgeoning everyday life spins out of control into nuclear holocaust.

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While I Phantom was a wholly preconceived, through-composed narrative, his second solo full-length, this year's Mo' Mega, was more intuitive in its development. "With this record, I just tried to live in each song—make the most out of the individual concepts, as opposed to having a huge preplanned theory for the album," says Lif. One can feel this more impulse-driven approach in the record's varied moods, though the album still maintains thematic clarity.

Mo' Mega is described in its liner notes as centering on the gaping divide between the crushingly disenfranchised and governmentally neglected bulk of the national population and the soul-wearying bluster of the hypermodernized and ravenously capitalistic reigning culture. The first five songs are feverish screeds about our nation's propensity for creating murderous intentions in young black men, its rapacious and mind-numbing consumer lust, and its administrators' essentially malignant and dishonest designs. It is political rap of the most artful style, though one can feel palpably that Mr. Lif is not lecturing, he is venting. Of his artistic impetus, Lif says, "For me the main value [of my music] is writing these songs so I can keep making sense of the world, so I don't lose my mind."

The record eases up for its middle third with the somewhat goofy, industry-parodying "Murs Iz My Manager," the comically repulsed "Washitup!" and "Long Distance," a song about girls lusting after touring musicians. These more lighthearted asides reflect what Lif describes as "a couple moments of happiness." The record's last three songs are a slight return to the narrative storytelling of I Phantom; they form a trilogy, first detailing the societal afflictions and pitfalls of three black men (voiced by Lif, Akrobatik, and Blueprint) growing up, and then recounting a broken family from the perspective of first the child, then the father. While Lif himself comes from a thankfully intact familial background, he has focused on the emotional world of displaced children and parents on both albums because, as he says, it is regrettably "the hallmark of the black community."

On Mo' Mega, as in the past Lif solo releases, his primary producer and artistic foil is Def Jux label boss El-P. In the record's first and darkest section particularly, his beats feed the fire of Mr. Lif's ire like raw stimulants; the rippling beat of the single "Brothaz" is perhaps the finest example of Bomb Squad–style layer overload of the post-free-sample era yet constructed. The degenerative architecture of his productions (more ominous and heavier than most anything he's done since the landmark Cannibal Ox record The Cold Vein) links up with Lif's dark reveries in pulsing circulatory systems of kinetic thought.

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"Basically we were both on an adventure," Lif says of his work with El-P on Mo' Mega. "This album represents us getting together, refortifying our friendship, working on shit together, and seeing how far we could take the songs."

On Mo' Mega's first track, "Collapse," Lif ruminates heavily on his life's legacy and his ultimately underground status. Beyond polemics or lyrical flash, however, his ultimate goal seems to create fully dimensional and whole art. "To remain in the game and have longevity you have to cover all bases—come with style, come with content, come with production. I want people to feel like I can write a song about anything, capture some crucial aspects of life, be they personal or political. I want to be regarded as someone who was well-rounded enough to convey an aspect of something that is important to the experience of living as human beings."

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