Mr. Lif says he's most productive when he's at home."I kinda thought of the name The Perceptionists one day in my pantry," says the Boston-based rapper, who's talking on his "piece of shit" cell phone as he's doing laundry. "I was talking to Ak `MC Akrobatik, the second of the three Perceptionists` at the time. It's obviously not the shortest, easiest to remember or catchiest name, but we thought it was a name that identified us so we kept it."
Black Dialogue, The Perceptionists' first LP, was released on Definitive Jux earlier this year and features Lif, Akrobatik and fellow Bostonian DJ Fakts One. Lif says the music and concepts are significantly toned down from the fiery politics of his solo LPs: "The Black Dialogue album is just about being human; more than being political, the music is a form of therapy."
Of course the LP touches on politics when the group asks, "Where are the weapons of mass destruction?" in the thrashing lead single "Memorial Day"; and in the album's stern title cut they riff on black culture being "diminished" though it's "the most imitated culture on earth." But the serious cuts are balanced with lighthearted jams like "Party Hard" (featuring Guru) and "Career Finders" (featuring Humpty Hump), which takes aim at sucker MCs and finds the group enjoying some laughs.
And, interestingly, it's the more laid-back ambient tracks highlighting male-female relationships, like "Love Letters" and "Breathe in the Sun," that have caught the ear of programmers at satellite radio and college stations. In one of the least bitter breakup songs ever, Lif's verse in "Breathe in the Sun" encourages his girlfriend to leave him "before we tarnish what we have together." The verse is autobiographical.
"Relationships are tough," says Lif, "but I think they are successful to the extent that you understand communication and the type of communication that needs to happen." He says he was inspired a bit by, of all things, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. "I like that movie 'cause it helps you realize that we have to be mindful of your own faults and that things aren't going to be perfect in a relationship."
The Perceptionists speak admiringly about women in "Love Letters." The track's hook really grabbed Akrobatik. "We just heard that beat and it dictated what we were gonna write about," says the MC from a cell phone as he drives around Boston running errands. "The 'Love Letters' track had that psychedelic sound," he recalls, "and somehow it just sounded like talking to a girl, so we just went with that."
Both love songs on the LP were produced by Willie Evans Jr. of Jacksonville-based hip-hop crew Asamov. Mr. Lif says he likes Evans' production because it's "soulful, heartfelt and sincere," qualities he says are on the decline in mainstream hip-hop. Therapy, another member of Florida's Asamov, was born in Boston, and "goes way back" with Akrobatik (Therapy and Evans produced The Perceptionists' first single, "The Razor," in 2004).
"They flew me up there to record the beats," Evans text-messages from Jacksonville. "Ak was hitting me up down here and tellin' me which direction they were going in with the lyrics. Then when I got up there we just put the pieces together."
The Perceptionists' studio is at Lif's house, yet the MC stays on the road a lot. "The reason I don't have another solo album out yet is 'cause I'm just not at my house enough," he laments before announcing quite domestically that his laundry's all folded. "Now I'm gonna make myself a little snack."
Ahh, the glamorous life.
9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15