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Waxing prophetic (continued)

Related Links

Edan's official Web site

Perceptionists' Web page

And Edan has indeed come into his own on the mike, forgoing the fanboyish yelps of 2001’s Primitive Plus (Solid) for a gruffer, more confident delivery. Dude’s gonna get called an egomaniac for some of these lines ("Connect the dots with all the faggots making records/Who couldn’t suck a dick or put the gloss on their upper lip"), but he backs it up 20-fold, fashioning internal rhymes with ease ("I use pens like hallucinogenics/So who could pretend my music ain’t a beautiful thing") and alluding to everything from The Lord of the Rings to Salvador Dalí. He’s dense but never difficult to follow, esoteric but never alienating. And consistent in persona: "I could never use the facade of a musician/To celebrate hate and abuse women/The beautician is back/Humble magnificent wizard of rap wearing tuxedos on the wax."

What’s more, by concentrating on the æsthetics of rap, Edan has made some of the more poignant extra-musical comments in recent memory. Focusing on the music means denying the tropes around him: "Cuz when the beats sound iffy and kids buck lies/It’ll be a sad like when the Biz Mark dies." And when he gravitates toward the surreal in the latter half of Beauty and the Beat, he comes off half-hopeful/half-pessimistic on the issue of whether rap will collapse on itself. With lyrics and production interacting at unusual paces, he offers a modern and conflicted ending for an album so rife with compelling artistic struggle. "I don’t know which part of my built-in nostalgia has to do with a dreadful suspicion that we’re heading in the wrong direction, and it leads me to sorta cling to yesterday, because that was a purer place than we are today. I don’t know if that’s part of me subconsciously; it may be."

Beauty and the Beat doesn’t answer that question. But its arrival in 2005 reminds us both of rap’s great possibilities and of the myriad rappers who’ve failed to achieve them.

HIP-HOP’S SPIRIT of artistic competition grew out of gang culture. But there was a time before the after-party became the party, and the Perceptionists allude to that golden age in "Let’s Move": "Fuck a battle we got nothing to prove/Perceptionists provide the people with the groove." The Perceptionists are a trio of Boston-bred hip-hoppers — rappers Mr. Lif and Akrobatik and DJ Fakts One — who’ve just released their debut album, Black Dialogue (Def Jux). And they’ve been touring since March. In a sense, the disc is just an inducement to the public to come to the crew’s parties — yet another return to party-centric b-boy culture. "This is just the new b-boy shit as far as I’m concerned," Mr. Lif says over the phone from Boulder. "This is just what happens when you try to make a record just for fun."

Which isn’t to say Black Dialogue lacks the vitriol of Lif’s black-conscious solo work on 2002’s Emergency Rations EP and I Phantom (Def Jux) — the spit’s just mixed in with songs about everything from straight partying to long-distance relationships to WMDs, all set to beats for the feets. "We’re hired to throw a party as far as I’m concerned," Lif says. "It’s so funny to me that you can send a tremor through the independent hip-hop world if you have a beat on your record you can dance to. You know, we made our record knowing we were gonna be doing like 200 shows so we were like, ‘Hey, fuck it, man, we better be having fun if we’re gonna be doing 200 shows.’"

Straddling party hedonism and social consciousness isn’t always easy. "Where are the weapons of mass destruction?/We’ve been looking for months and ain’t found nothing" is pretty flat — and a total bummer at a party. And the crew can overcompensate with antithetical cash-moneyism: "We’re onto the next phase/New album world tour let’s get paid." Ak and Lif fare best when they’re not fighting their own "conscious rapper" status, instead taking issue with rap culture, not just from Edan’s artistic angle but with respect to how rap reflects on blacks and black art. On the title track, Lif drops, "Corny niggers switch it up and rent it to Viacom," then goes one step farther: "These niggas all want homes in the Hamptons/It’s a minstrel show so they do what white man ask them/Throw the money at the screen." Then one step more: "We’d rather teach each other how to fire chrome than to buy a home/There’s power in the land that we own/You need capital to start to win in capitalism/Take the money from the sales and buy some places for living."

It gets confusing, though, when on the next track, "Fram Rupture," Lif calls for Farrakhan-informed resegregation: "There’s plenty of us out there who might dare/Form an independent state to right this small fear/We’ll have our own laws own schools own cash too/And none of these funds will flow to you." These answers the Perceptionists offer for pushing rap and black culture forward seem to contradict each other. But hey, at least they’re offering them.

You can follow the Perceptionists’ tour at www.mrlif.com

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Issue Date: May 6 - 12, 2005
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