While rappers from Will.I.Am to Nas rushed to record singles in support of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Mr. Lif responded to the election season in a different way. After he released a series of controversial songs called “Presidential Reports” as free downloads, he followed with the Inauguration Day release of the single “Obama,” which cautioned listeners about the potential perils of confusing hype with hope. Statements like that are nothing new for the Boston MC, who first garnered attention with the incendiary post-9/11 song “Home Of The Brave” from 2002's Emergency Rations EP. After the release of his playful 2006 full-length, Mo' Mega, Lif nearly lost his life after his tour bus careened off a 40-foot cliff. Like the rest of the passengers, he survived the crash, but the laid-back attitude he had displayed on Mo' Mega did not. His new album, Heard It Today, pulls no punches in its assessment of the global economic meltdown (and those who have been voted into power to fix it). Prior to his Saturday show at the Triple Rock, Lif spoke with Decider about the recession, staying alive, and how Obama resembles a Quentin Tarantino character.
Decider: Do you think you're going to keep doing the "Presidential Reports" now that you're done with the album?
Mr. Lif: I started off with that, and it was a very interesting thing to me, but I think that somewhere I fell really out of love with watching the news. The programming makes me feel mentally and physically ill. I don't know what's real and what's not. How real is this recession even? I just feel that at any point they could start saying that shit's okay, and it would start to make people invest more.
D: On the “Obama” single, you have a line about how you think he's playing the same part that Harvey Keitel played in Pulp Fiction. Do you really think Obama's the clean-up man?
ML: I think it's worthy of some suspicion. That's what I'm saying in that song. Living in the nation for the past eight years, I can't just fall for this shit in the blink of an eye. In my opinion, the people who control the currency have the power. And that's not Obama. I just don't see how I'm supposed to be like, "Oh, the global domination agenda for America has dissolved!" And we should all fucking throw confetti in the air. You just have to look at it from this angle: If you were among the slickest think-tank people in the whole world, and you needed some shit that would put America back on top and sedate the citizens who were probably on the point of anarchy because they have no homes, no fucking jobs, no health care, [then] Obama was it. Automatic sedation. And I feel like I have a responsibility to look at shit like that and be like: Hey, it's great we've got the first black president. He has an answer for damn near every question. He's a great orator. It's great to see that, and there's lots of pros, but let's examine the potential cons before we all just dive in face first.
D: Do you think you're giving a voice to those who are uncomfortable with how enthusiastically a lot of otherwise radical people jumped on the "yes we can" bandwagon?
ML: I hope so. In the course of crafting this record, I was speaking with people on the street. A lot of my neighbors are actually on the album.
D: Are they the people who can be heard on the title track of I Heard It Today?
ML: Yeah. Those are a lot of people from my neighborhood. They were going through their own trouble with foreclosures, job loss, and all that type of shit. I hope that it does [offer them a voice]. I feel like the record was constructed by the people. I was online posing questions to people: What do you think of the bailout bill? What do you think about this? What do you think about that? And I just read what people had to say and tried to write what I felt people felt. There's lots of people who are still trying to fight against losing their homes, or who have just lost their homes. The help came too late for them. And, you know, is there really help? Because a lot of these banks aren't even giving out loans. They just took the billions of dollars and said, "Naw, I don't know." It's a crazy era. There's still a lot of turmoil. I hope that there are people who will listen to this record and be like, "Yo, I do feel like this guy is representing me and genuinely cares about the situation."
D: In the statement about the record that you released online, you said your biggest hope for it was that it would "inspire people to follow their dreams relentlessly." Does that urgency come from the bus crash?
ML: Yeah, exactly. I don't know how no one died in the accident. No one was crippled. And there were 12 of us, including the driver, on this bus. There were a wide range of injuries, but an uncanny amount of people walked away from it. Including myself—I'm fucked up, but I walked. Along with that type of trauma, I lost everything I had. I was on a long tour, and I had all my most important belongings with me. The adversity that I'm battling to do this record, I can't even quantify it or really fully explain it. There have been days when I've felt so depressed I didn't even think that I could stand up. The pure burst of inspiration that allowed me to do I Heard It Today was very important to me, and it also just taught me that in these eras of darkness, you have to cling to your passion.