Orwellian themed hip-hop finds Mr. Lif and my new favorite beat miner/sample addict, L’Orange in an elevated state. The story is set as a future realm where art has been destroyed along with humanistic transgressions and thus culture as a whole. The Scribe (Mr. Lif) and his cohorts are the only hope for saving culture as art from the overlords in The Life and Death of Scenery.
I first encountered Mr. Lif’s genius in the live setting at Wetlands NYC circa 1997, the stage destroyed by fellow emcee’s, and fellow Bostonian Vinnie Paz, New York’s Cage, Company Flow, and Aesop Rock, as well as the interminable MF DOOM, with even MF GRIMM making an appearance wheelchair and all… but only after getting paid in advance. You can’t even make that kind of greatness up. Lif’s ominous dreadlocks and ability to surf a beatscape with his lopsidedly timed style blew me out of the crowd. His verbal assault as much demonic as angelic, perpetually aimed at something, never nothing. Wasting not on bullshit lyrics about cars, money, and fancy yuppie stuff, Lif streams a social conscious. Lyrics set to teach and guide, or in this case preserve and conquer.
L’Orange is North Carolina’s finest, ever. Yes, better than Timabland and Missy or whatever else your Pop brain bursts to. Reaching back to production styles like Da Beatminerz and Pete Rock, with a little El-P and a smattering of Mr. Len. He flawlessly merges the future sounds with that East Coast independent underground backpacker gusto, owing as much to DJ Premier as the D.I.T.C. crew. His samples are quaint and contrite, the drums and bass precise and poignant, making as much use of silence as auditory pleasantries. A young cat with a true grit for musical sensibility – never overloaded with sonic dirges but just enough to tickle any fancy. The record is an expertly woven quilt of sample-delia, destitute and delicious a feast for the mind, poetic and full of fervor.
The Life and Death of Scenery is as much a true hip-hop concept record as I’ve seen since 36 Chambers, drawing, clearly, on Mr. Lif and perhaps L’Orange’s insatiable appetite for the literary and auditory greats. The record’s premise alone is in the vein of underground hip-hop’s version of Star Wars. The Scribe, assuming the role of Luke Skywalker, longtime compatriot and fellow Perceptionist Akrobatik filling in as Han Solo, add turntablist deluxe Q-Bert with newcomer Chester Watson battling it out for C3PO and R2D2 status, all trained by the masterful Yoda of Gonjasufi. Set out against the dark overlords who’ve over scoured the Earth to an even more boring pile of rubbish sans music, art, or any other form of self-expression, a treasure trove of robotic, talentless ‘people’ encapsulated in the mandatory mind fucking of the Narrator and his dastardly coalition, played by Wyatt Cenac of The Daily Show in unsettlingly convincing form.
A trip down memory lane to the golden period of hip-hop and its culture when male rappers used their pen to write down thoughts that don’t vilify themselves, degrade women, boast about the size of their bank account…. Where I come from emcees battled on microphones shared blunts or beers. It was an art, I want skills, not your bank statements, and assets, son. The same folks who frequented Trampps, CBGB’s, or the aforementioned Wetlands club were one in the same. It was not uncommon to literally run into the same crowd and/or the same artists in attendance from club to club—one in the same for a punk show, hippie show, or hip-hop show. The good old days when a scene was a scene, when cell phones were actually just phones and less common than the pager, when beats were murky, jeans were baggy and lyrical fortitude stood to be reckoned with. Lif and L’Orange are carrying the torch through the underground battling the un-powers that be, to save an art, a scene, a lifestyle. It’s my hope that this record’s concept never meets fruition, ensure it doesn’t and take heed, MAKE ART! Out now on Mello Music Group, hoodies unite!
Originally published at PopMatters 11/4/16