In part one of our exclusive interview, we talked with Mr. Lif about where his name came from, the recording process of his latest album Don’t Look Down, his relationship with Mello Music Group, and his favorite Edan beats. Peep part 2 of the interview below.
WL: It’s great to have The Perceptionists back. We haven’t heard from you as a group in a while. Why the long silence?
Lif: I think there were some touring frustrations in ‘05 after Black Dialogue came out. Even when we were trying to finish that record, Fakts One was inching his way out of the group. Back in the day, he was a radio host on 88.9 WERS, and he was on there spinnin’ our music, and there was a long term friendship that yielded [Black Dialogue], so it was sad to see that nearing the end of our sessions, he had one foot out the door. It’s a fact that Fakts One wasn’t a part of any touring once the album dropped. He’d already moved onto another phase of life. [Akrobatik] and I carried the torch and did some touring, but the dynamic wasn’t what it was when Fakts was there. There was no official retirement, but we’ve made different attempts over the years to put an album together. It hasn’t happened yet, but we’re sitting on a lot of heat. I’d like to see another two Perceptionists projects, along with an Edan record, and everything’s gravy after that.
WL: You and I were talking about social media earlier. Your Tape Battles and music gear posts are a unique way to engage with your audience. Where’d the idea come from?
Lif: The Tape Battles probably comes from the same place that those epic Masters of the Universe battles come from. It comes from me looking at my tape collection and having such a deep reverence for what those records did not only for me, but for the world. In my studio, I have the legends watching over me when I craft my songs. I look in either direction, I see Liquid Swords, I’m seeing Illmatic, I’m seeing Midnight Marauders, or The Chronic or The Infamous or Funcrusher Plus, they’re all there. Tape Battles gives an opportunity to put that artwork in front of people’s faces. Every year we get a little further away from when those albums came out. There’s a lot of great music out right now, to the point that we’re actually flooded with new music. But let’s take a second to talk about how great this record was and we’ll compare this record to that record. If you feel like casting a vote on either of these records, maybe you’ll go back and give them a listen to revisit your feelings about them, and that’s one of my favorite things about what it brings. It brings me back in touch with the music and makes me think if they’d go well together.
Audio Audio stems from the fact that my new creative renaissance is so largely connected to what I sound best on in terms of audio gear. When I decided to rebuild my studio three years after it got flooded, it was like ‘if I’m gonna spend $800 on this mic or spend $1,500 on this mic, it’d better fucking sound good.’ Luckily, I have this amazing place in Boston called Parson’s Audio that lets me borrow their gear, man. I’ve got a decade-long rapport with them, so I can go in there, call up my boy Analog Rick, and he’ll prescribe mics, pre-amps, compressors, and audio interfaces, let me keep them for as long as I need until I really make a firm decision about it. It comes from the knowledge of what I sound best on. If I want a certain tenor and tone for a song, I know exactly what mic to use at this point, what pre-amp will do that, and what type of compression I want before I even send it to the mixing engineer. It’s powerful to make music with whatever you can get your hands on. That’s what the Wu [Tang Clan] did with 36 Chambers. But with Audio Audio, I try to also let people know that you don’t have to buy the most expensive piece of gear to make a great record, especially in hip-hop. The aesthetic comes from make having shitty equipment; if your equipment is too nice, you might lose that grit and that edge. Getting people to critically think about sound. Now that Don’t Look Down is out, I’m planning on doing an Audio Audio once a week for each song on the album.
WL: Talk to me about your feelings on physical media. Whether it’s CDs, physical tapes, or vinyl, what does it mean to you?
Lif: It’s the most important thing, man. I’m very happy that vinyl is still so viable and that people still crave it. You can’t hang the artwork for an MP3 on your wall. Maybe my description of my studio tells it all right there. The tapes surround me on the left, right, and center. When you have physical copy of something, it gives you the ability to do that. You can hold it, look at it, because as artists, we put so much work into these. I like to think that people do realize how much work it takes to make an album or even to make a song. Every time I make a song, I’m really trying to capture something. I feel to honor that effort, it’s great to have a physical thing to hold and to flip over and appreciate the people who came together to make this happen. I’m proud that Record Store Day gives me the opportunity to represent for stores that keep independent artists in the mix. When Tower Records closed, that ripped the guts out of the city of Boston, dude. It was run kinda lackadaisical, but that was the beautiful thing about it. Artists were working there to put a few dollars together and get some meals together, but you knew that when an album dropped, it would be fairly priced and you could acquire it and feel good. After Tower went, Virgin Megastore came in and I wasn’t feeling CDs for $20. Places like Tower, Rough Trade, Ameoba, and Fat Beats, to be able to walk into places like this and see all these records and CDs, it’s like being a kid in a toy store. If we lose all of our record stores, we’re lost, man. iTunes is great, but it’s not gonna substitute.
WL: I remember the first MP3 I ever bought, as strange as that sounds. But for me, I like it all. I love being able to carry 3000 songs in my pocket, but at the same time, my record collection has been growing. Like you, I love having physical things to hold and run my fingers across. It’s even got to the point that superstars like Adele are putting out vinyl again, and I think that shows its effect on the industry.
Lif: I agree that it’s great to have 3000 songs in your pocket, but those records that you listen to that hit you the hardest, maybe then you’ll go out and buy physicals of those. The ones that command that respect should be in your home, man.
WL: I feel like there’s been a lot of animosity between the old and the new recently and there’s no real reason that we need to be at each other’s throats. It’s all music at the end of the day. We don’t have to like it all, but we’re all in this together.
Lif: I wanna go on record as saying that there’s room for it all. I feel that if there’s not young cats out here right now continuing this art, whether or not it sounds like the art sounded 10 years ago, it has to happen. In one way or another, it all progresses the culture. Maybe it has to go through some growing pains to come out on the other side with something, but everything goes through an ebb and a flow. Young brothers and sisters, everybody express yourself. If we go through an era where people are dissatisfied with the art as a whole, it’ll lead to a whole new creative renaissance that we’re all happy with, so let it all in. I might not be able to relate somebody that’s heavy into trap, but I grew up listening to Mobb Deep and Kool G Rap. I didn’t grow up in that life either, but I was able to respect the level of skill. Some people would make the argument that they don’t think younger cats are skilled in the same way, but it all adds on.
WL: Phife Dawg’s passing is still affecting the hip-hop community across age boundaries. What did ATCQ and Phife specifically mean to you?
Lif: I think we’re all still coming to a firm understanding of what they mean to us. Edan and I were just talking about this over dinner. Particularly those first three records, they made something so mystic and powerful. All of them are over 20 years old and they connected to an innocence that still had an edge in the artform. The sounds and samples contained such a beauty that shined through a war-ravaged world and the ugliness that is the greed of our government and whatever causes us as beings to injure the planet and create this caustic environment. The land could be completely barren, and I could place Midnight Marauders in the ground and I’d expect the Earth would flourish around it. Grass, trees, flowers, bees would come back; that’s the power of Tribe. It’s something none of us can fully describe. People didn’t even understand what Phife meant to all of us. I was hurt over the loss of Phife, but life is so fast-paced, that I grieved in my own way and got caught up in life again.
When I saw the celebration of his life at The Apollo, I came to tears at least three times. I had never seen the community come together like that for one of our champions. Everyone knows Tip as the frontman, which made it easier to downplay the role of Phife. The amount of hip-hop quotables and his knack for saying the right thing in the right way is uncanny. You think of these songs from one of the greatest groups in music history and one of the greatest voices in music history in Tip on the low, and [Phife] is just delivering. To me, it hurts to lose Phife and it puts a finality on Tribe’s story. To see Busta in tears and see Andre and Kanye coming out, this needs to be the standard for when we lose one of our champions. It doesn’t have to be as long as Phife’s service, but there has to be a service; a celebration, even. I wish something like that had happened for Guru. This isn’t a gripe at all because I’m happy it happened to Phife. It helped me realize how much adding onto this culture means to me. It made me want to up the ante with all the music I put out in the future.