Mr Lif the conscientious agitator

In issue 01 we reviewed the Mr. Lif track “I Phantom”, from his Emergency Rations EP. In a rather excited review we suggested that the track was a sociological exploration of alienation in the modern workplace. It was, we claimed, the work of an individual who uses words so accurately, intelligently and dexterously, that they could be viewed as hip-hop’s equivalent to Orwell. The difference between the two individuals, we noted, was that Mr. Lif also has an ear for massive drums and brilliant music.

It was then, a privilege when we were asked to conduct an in-depth interview with Mr. Lif. The feature sees one of hip-hops innovators discussing the motivations behind his new LP I Heard it Today, why he set up his own Bloodbot Tactical Enterprises label, the future of political protesting, his experience of being trailed by shadowy security agencies and his potential future career as an NFL sports show presenter (the BBC could learn a thing from this kind of recruitment policy). The material we go over is so wide ranging and entertaining and that we have decided to release it in three segments; two parts will be posted up on the site and the remainder will feature in the third issue hard copy of Bonafide Magazine.

This interview is massive but anyone who has created such a body of original work deserves such a platform (for those unfamiliar with his material, an iPod friendly summary of stand-out tracks includes: “Home of the Brave,” “Brothaz,” “Front on This,” “Be Out,” “Return of the B-Boy,” “Live From the Plantation” and “Heavy Artillery.” And that’s not even mentioning his collabs!).

Enjoy, as Bonafide lets the agitator speak. Peace.

So you’ve just got out of bed then?

I stayed up writing late last night till 6am. I had an extended sleep. I’m not even out of bed but I am ready to talk, man. I really appreciate you taking the time to hit me up and discuss this record. I’m feeling so rejuvenated with the birth of this new album, I’m on my first national tour for a few years and I’m just loving reconnecting with my fans; it’s been a real positive experience.

It’s been a couple of years since Mo Mega.

Yeah that was ’06.

What was the approach for ‘I Heard It Today?’ It covers quite a lot of heavy issues.

You know, I really wanted to capture the times, it was such a unique era. There was so much change going on and there was a whirlwind of information every single day; the Presidential election; the race between McCain and Obama; watching them bounce strategies off one another and trying to see what was effective and all types of stuff… there was so much. Meanwhile you have got the economic collapse: the housing collapse, the energy crises, people losing jobs left and right. You know, I just think that… that when you look back at the history of our nation it’s times like these that build a lot of character.

People look back through the course of their lives and say ‘Yo I lived through that,’ you know what I mean? ‘I voted Obama or I voted McCain. I lost my house at that time or I was lucky enough to refinance before that shit hit.’ Or whatever it is. This era is a landmark that wont be forgotten. 30 or 40 years from now people will still be affected by what happened all throughout the course of 2008 and 2009. I thought it was important to take some of the main issues from this era and write about them in a fashion that I hope people will find to be timeless. You know, like I just said, there are people who lost their homes in this financial collapse and you don’t exactly ever recover from that. It changes the course of your life. You know there were people who had to probably go and leave the city they were living in to go and live with family and friends. People got up-rooted. I thought songs, like “I Heard it Today,” would have relevance years down the line. I wanted to capture it all and put it in a time capsule and have it be timeless.

What do see for the future of the US?

I think the US right now is caught up in a very awkward position, [one] that it is not used to being in. There are now other nations, like India and China, that are rising up and becoming global powers. Although my research isn’t at its sharpest right now because I’ve been touring and I haven’t been in touch with my media outlets and I haven’t been hitting the books like I would like to because touring is all encompassing. My sense, right now, is that America is not as shit as it was. When I first started touring around the world in ’98, I remember being in Italy and kids just wanted to talk to me about America – they were infatuated and enamoured by it. And then of course, during the Bush administration, we saw that disappear. You saw people being, like ‘Fuck America,’ you know what I mean.

I think Obama is great publicity for this country to try and regain its image and a way of getting people to think that this country is the new cool again. Ultimately man, I think the ball has been rolling in a way where people are loving their own nations more and that they had that eight years during the Bush administration to turn inwards and strengthen themselves. I think Obama will need strong, finesse moves try to walk the US into this new era where its power is diminishing and it needs to turn to its allies with an amicable approach to see if they will stand by it as it tries to recreate image.

After the past decade of worldwide political events alongside the internet making free speech more available and far reaching, do you feel people are more wary of governments, with the opinion they can do as they please without being called to account?

It’s funny that you say that it has been more obvious, man. I have spent some time trying to figure out is it because I am getting old and wiser and I am a little bit more attuned to what the government is doing? Is that why I am realising it more? Or is it that they have been more blatant about it? I think it is a mix of both man.

This is an awkward point for the masses in the scope of history. I think that, back in the ’60s and the ’50s, we felt like ‘OK,we can take the streets and protest.’ That was a pretty effective form of saying ‘We are making a statement.’ I think that in this era, we now know that before the US started a war in Afghanistan we saw the biggest global protest on a military conflict in the history of human kind.

And it just got ignored…

It got ignored. And to me that was the biggest slap in the face statement! They were like ‘OK, you guys can keep on using your 60s tactics in the new millennium and watch how we simply pretend you are not there.’ To me we are in an awkward stage where we have no idea of how to slow the actions of the government right now and that they know that we don’t know. So they are just running amok and meanwhile we are blowing up in the chat-rooms and everything like that, which is a cool outlet but even more removed than assembling a group of people and talking at some ones house about what can be done. It is even less of a statement.

Maybe these are protests or conflicts that have to be fought digitally now? I have been saying for a little while to some my peoples that, maybe one of he ways to hit the government now is to hit them in the pocket? Maybe there is someway to assemble- as people – that say for two months we to stop spending on some aspect of the market? Maybe not necessarily to bring these industries to their knees, [but] if you want to make money we are going use this as our sword. It is though a much more complicated thing than I am making it out to be. I mean, what do you pick that people can go without for two weeks? It gets complicated. Definitely not food. What is it really going to be? I am sure if you said to people ‘Hey don’t do this for two weeks,’ people are going to stock up before they go into the weeks they are not doing. Spend the same amount of money they would have spent during those weeks before not doing it! I don’t know what the solution is, but hitting the government in the pocket is probably what would make them adhere to argument.

Read part two…

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