Many of the topics that seep into Oakland rapper Mr. Lif's lyrics could pop up in a graduate seminar -- looming ecological meltdown, U.S. foreign policy, the emptiness of a workaday existence. His background is still in battle rhymes and getting the crowd to go "ho!," however, so don't expect to find footnotes in his CD booklets.
The football, lacrosse and hockey player initially went to college to play sports, but the rigors of keeping on top of practice and curriculum ran him ragged. Losing his passion for both, the displaced freshman began casting about for direction. "Hip-hop basically hit me," he recalls, "largely because of the immaculate hip-hop that was released at the end of '93 and the beginning of '94. When Nas dropped Illmatic, a lot of things started making a lot more sense to me. I was very impressed with the way the press embraced him and spoke about his poetical content and his voice. It helped me adjust my focus, made me realize I wanted to give my own commentary on the state of affairs."
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Lif certainly does that on "Home of the Brave," a song from last year's Emergency Rations EP, in which he advances the Noam Chomsky it's-all-about-a-pipeline argument and suggests the anthrax scare was a government diversion. It's definitely one of the most inflammatory reactions to September 11 recorded in any genre. Further evidence that Lif doesn't give a fuck: He debuted the song at the Knitting Factory, four blocks from Ground Zero.