What does a militant rapper have to change to remain relevant as the era of hope dawns? In the case of Bean Town vet, Mr. Lif, not a damn thing. The truth is, America’s youth feel a renewed empowerment in shaping the future, the present has never looked more dire. It is against this backdrop of corruption, disruption, and impending eruption that Mr. Lif unleashes I Heard It Today, a call to arms every bit as timely as the title suggests.
“Welcome To The World” sets the tone early, tossing the listener into a dizzying swirl of pounding drums, tense guitars, and general sonic chaos, complete with scratches, sirens, and the occasional detached scream. Lif’s gravelly voiced rhymes unfurl an apocalyptic snapshot of a society crumbling under the weight of war, poverty and disillusionment. “What About Us” plays as a throbbing populist screed with Lif raging against the widening divide between the haves, and the ever growing ranks of the have-nots. Distorted keys and jittery drums bring a nervous tension to the title cut’s ripped-from-the-headlines indictment of the mortgage and banking crises.
As much resonance as Lif’s topical lyrics carry, I Heard It Today is not quite the revolutionary tour de force that the times seem to be calling for. It’s not coincidence that overtly political hip-hop has typically leant itself better to singles than albums. After awhile the gravity of the subject matter can become taxing and repetitive, and it takes a special brand of MC to keep the listener engaged and enraged. Without the fire and brimstone of Chuck D., the professorial bombast of KRS-One, or even the militant swagger of Dead Prez, Mr. Lif begins to simply feel like the monotoned bearer of bad news, sending the listener into a stupor of despondency. Perhaps Lif even senses this himself, as he offers up the mid-tempo herbal remedy of “Head High” and the inspirational affirmations of “The Sun” as welcomed respites.
While not quite Mr. Lif’s strongest work, I Heard It Today may very well be his most ambitious, which given the length of his tenure in the game, is commendable in itself. Coupled with the searing immediacy of the project, that should be more than enough to keep old fans happy, as well as connect with the anger and frustration of a few new ones.
- Jeff Harvey