Dear Mr. Lif,
Can you give me a minute? I mean, I’m trying to pivot from the song I just heard on the radio (Flo Rida’s “Welcome to My House”) to your new album, “Don’t Look Down”. Can you maybe ease into the album a bit? You know, start off with something laid back. Perhaps you could do a nice little instrumental intro. That would help transition me back into weightier content.
Well, after listening to the first song, “Pounds of Pressure,” I see that Mr. Lif did not get my letter. Geesh! This dude gets right into it. First song out the gate is reminiscent of a grimy, gritty Ghostface Killah street tale. Perhaps the album will calm down a bit on the second track, “The Abyss.” Nope! This song is a continuation of “Pounds of Pressure” and the beat is arguably the most exciting one on the project.
We are only two songs in and already we have something special on our hands. Mr. Lif is a gem. He has a unique voice: both in how his voice actually sounds and in how he delivers his point of view. He doesn’t just put words in motion. He carefully hand selects words, rearranges them in interesting ways, and effortlessly blows them over beats.
I like the beats on this album. I like them, but I think they flirt as the only flaw in the album. They are good and that’s the problem. Mr. Lif is light years beyond good. There are moments where the beats really capture me (i.e. ‘iLL’ & ‘Whizdom’), but overall they only provide the background to Lif’s performance. The nice thing about the production is that it does not get in the way; it is not cluttered. It does not take away from Lif’s skills. I just wish it supported them a bit more.
The features on the other hand definitely support Lif. Early on we hear singing by-way-of hook from Taylormade, Selina Carrera, & Erica Dee. And they all work well. Taylormade offers this beautifully eerie sound, Carrera brings a more demanding jazzy voice, and Dee is gentle and welcoming. Each is unique and adds to the vibe of each song.
Now that we’ve heard the singing features the guest emcees are up to bat and they come out swinging. Blacastan rips a fiery verse at the end of the Edan-produced ‘Whizdom.’ We’ll call it a single. The very next track, “Mission Accomplished” features The Perceptionists with Fakts One on the beat and Akrobatik trading syllables with Lif. Yes, Syllables. Most features these days are not even features. It’s some dude in California recording a verse and e-mailing it to some cat in Chicago. Slap it on a beat and call it collaboration. That’s not the case here. Lif and Akrobatik literally go back and forth sometimes finishing each others’ words. Dope. We have Blacastan, Lif, and Akrobatik, on base: time to bring in the heavy hitter, Del the Funky Homosapien. And the ball is out the park; grand slam. The features on this album from the singers to the emcees are top notch.
Then there is Mr. Lif himself. He is no doubt the best part of this album. His lyrical content is on point like always. Lif has consistently rapped truth to power, challenged the status quo, and told engaging stories throughout his career. “Don’t Look Down” does not deviate. Instead, it adds.
Lif also brings a fresh touch of vulnerability to this album. There seems to be a softening of heart here. Don’t get me wrong; Lif still brings the raw. But, it feels seasoned with tenderness. During the final song “Don’t Look Down” Lif raps, “I’m just trying to make a little sense of it all. Before I fall from walk to crawl to maybe even nothing at all.” When I hear this I can’t help but think that perhaps this entire album is a journey: a journey for deeper meaning in the midst of chaos. Perhaps that is why we are not to look down. Perhaps down can also be the past. It is the known, but not the ideal. It is what feels safe, but entirely too dangerous for us to remain.
Maybe Mr. Lif did receive my letter. He certainly did not begin his new album on a chill note, but by the time I got to the final song, “Don’t Look Down,” I was reclining back peering up into the annals of my life. Then I quickly began thinking about my present and future possibilities. I smiled. Huh. Perhaps I won’t look down again.