Mr Lif

By Stef Gocheva

Mr. Lif, thanx for taking the time. How are you?

I am doing very well. I love Berlin. I really have to say that I really love it here. I´ve been here maybe 5 or 6 times now. I´ve been coming to Europe since 1998…

Your first tour was thrown by Subotage Ent., right? Also featured Casual, 7L & Esoteric, Del…

Exactly! That was the first tour I ever did. That was just one of the best experiences of my life. I have to thank Subotage for that. That was great. Really, I am a very lucky person, cause I’ve been able to continue to go on tour. And just meet people all over the world and to perform for them. As an artist you just want people to like and respect what you are doing. And I feel very blessed to have experinced that and I am actually thinking about moving to Berlin. I´ve been thinking about it, I haven´t decided to, but I’ve been thinking about it.

You mean moving here in the long run and why exactly to Germany?

I was thinking maybe 3 or 4 months out of the year. Maybe for 4 months of the year. In the summer. Because Germany is such a good place for me. People have treated me well here. People seemed to like my music here. Seems like if I spent some time here. It could do me some good just to be in another culture and to be in a culture where I can make some progress in my career. I am thinking about it. Berlin is a wonderful city.

Are there any plans for a bigger tour this year?

This is just a press tour. I’ll be doing a music tour later. We are hoping to do Europe in August. But I don’t know if that´s gonna work out. We try to figure it out. It might be August, it might be September.

Tell us more about this little tour. Are you perfoming only by yourself?

Right now it’s just myself and a representative from the label. Because I’m mainly doing press. I came over to Paris and did two days of press, then I came to Berlin, I had two days of press and then a show. And then off to London to do 2 days of interviews and one show and than I have to record with Morcheeba.

This sounds very interesting, but how did you hook up with Morcheeba?

Because I was coming out here, Def Jux wanted to make the most out of it. They want to make sure that there are a lots of things that I am doing. If you come all the way out here you might as well just lay around. So that’s what it was about. So they contacted Morcheeba. Morcheeba, they happened to be working on their new album and they wanted an Emcee. And I was “Ok, I rap, I’ll do it”. So, I am writing a song now. I am not done writing it yet but I have to finish it very soon. They gonna make the track. They gonna produce it.

Let’s talk about your new album “Mo Mega”, which seems to be very personal. Why did it took you four years after your debut LP in 2002 to drop it now?

It took that long, yeah. I started in ’97 and my first solo album didn’t came out til’ 2002. So it was a long time for me to even get that one done. After I finished “I Phantom” it was something that I thought about all my life. It was a big accomplishment. There is a point where after you finish a record where you have to move on. All the press comes out and you see how the people respond to it. They responded well and then I was on tour. It took me a while to get over the fact that I made that album. There is a point were you have to not even be listening to the record any more and just move on. I did that, but then I was on tour so much I didn’t get the chance to even make a new record. I wanted to do the Perceptionists album, ’cause I wanted to separate myself even more from “I Phantom”. I wanted to do something just with 2 of my best friends – Akrobatik and
Fakts One and make a different type of music.

How would you describe the difference between your new solo record “Mo Mega” and a Perceptionists album?

A Perceptionists album is very up-tempo. You can dance to it. We had fun while making the record. For “Mo Mega” I was working with different producers and the project wasn’t quite coming out the way I wanted it to. I was producing tracks. Blue Print produced a couple of tracks. The last song was produced by my friend Nick Toth from Australia. I am so glad to be done with another album, because it was so hard to get it done and now that it’s done I am already working on another record.

Do you relate “Mo Mega” to your first LP “I Phantom”?

No, not really. There is something about doing a second record, I don´t know why. You know, El-P and I were very concious of making sure that it wasn´t like “I Phantom”. We just wanted to do something different. For me, “I Phantom” is personal but this album is more personal. In “I Phantom” there is a big story and it has characters in it and you don’t know how many stories are about me and you don’t know how many are about the characters. But on this album I am just me. All the situations are kind of drown from my own life except for “Lookin In”, the song right before “For You”.

Can you please tell us the story behind this track?

It’s just about a young black guy that doesn’t have a father and he is feeling the effects of not having a father at home. He wants so much to help his mother. He just wants to build a strong black family. That´s what that song is about. But I actually have a very good family. My father and my mother are still together. I love my dad to death. That was the only time that I stepped outside of myself.

Does this mean that you used only your imagination to create it or is it based on lifes of friends, relatives etc.?

Always use your imagination! Plus honestly I have so many of my friends, my black male friends, don´t have dads. So it’s like more me observing what they are going thru and describe their pain. Making a song for them kind of speaks out of that situation.

You wanted to keep “Mo Mega” short and sweet or why are there only 11 tracks on it?

My thing is that I like short records. I don’t have much of intention spent. If someone makes a record that is an hour long I get to the 45 minute point and I need to listen to something else. So for me the record is only 40 minutes long. Yeah, I just like to keep it short and sweet. At least people are always wanting more. If I made eighteen or twenty tracks, there will be probably songs on there that I didn’t feel that strong about. And then people wouldn’t want to hear another record from me in a year and I am trying to put out another record in a year.

One track that really caught my ear was “Washitup”, cause it´s kind of a party track. What´s the basic idea behind it?

Yeah! You know, my family is from Barbados. So that song is kind of a dancehall groove and it’s just about my roots, it’s just about where I am from.

And that is the only one you produced on “Mo Mega”…

See, the thing is that I do a lot of production and at the beginning of my career I produced a lot of my songs like “Electro” and “Farmhand”. And the stuff did very well for me, but then once I got into the bigger label, I wasn´t ready to produce on a major record. I did stuff on “Enters the Colossus” 12″ and I did “Home Of The Brave”. That was maybe the biggest song I’ve ever done for myself. I think a lot of people just liked that song. That was good for me. But then I didn’t want to produce on “I Phantom”, because I felt a little intiminated. I don’t know why. This was a nice oportunity to put a piece from my own work that I did from beginning to end on my own. So I am glad that “Washitup” is on there. I am glad that I’ve stayed independent so I haven’t had to deal with any kind of pressure. I just been on record labels that kind of let me do what I want. So it’s good.

“I Phantom” was maybe a little too complex for a lot of critics, because of views on socio-political situations, how do u think?

Well, you know the thing is you gotta say what you feel. It’s like a risk that you have to take. Especially at the time when I wrote any of the songs on “I Phantom” or especially when I wrote “Home Of The Brave” for “Emergency Rations”. It was just like, you watch all this stuff on the news and the media keeps on telling people all the things, but you know it’s bullshit. So I just felt that it was important to put another perspective out there so people could hear something different and maybe open their minds to the possibility out there-maybe the government killed our own people. And people are now discovering that that´s exactly what happened. But the problem is that we can´t do anything about it, cause how do you stop the government? You can try to be aware. That’s all. That’s what I try to do with my music.

Have you ever had issues with people who don’t agree with your comments on the society of America?

I honestly was worried. But people wanted to hear that type of stuff. I got very lucky. I maybe only had one or two people who ever come up to me and have a problem with what I was doing. For the most part people just at least respect the fact that I put those types of ideas out there. Because I never tell people that I am right. I am just putting my ideas out there. I am humble about it and I think that people understand that. I am not like ‘I know everything, and you don’t, because I don´t know everything. There are a lot people out there that read many more books than I do. You know, I keep my heart open and I keep my ears and my eyes open and I just talk about what I feel.

You are one of the members who was a part of the independent scene in Boston when it was growing. How does this feel?

It is a pleasure to be from Boston. I take a lot of pride in the fact that I was able to be kind of at the forefront of it. It’s just an honor. Not many people get an opportunity to really represent their city all around the world. And 9 years later I am still doing it. I feel so happy. I just feel so young and energetic. I am even working out more to get myself in a better shape so I can do better shows. I am just so ready to do this again. And because I took 4 years off I just feel like, I have to just be better as I ever was. I am looking forward to the challenges. I want to come back out to Europe and to do a lot shows out here, go back to the States, Japan, Australia. I want to do it all. But while I have to travel I wanna make sure that I always have new music ready to put out for people. That was a problem, cause I was on tour for so long and I had no music coming out. But now I want to have music coming out and to be on tour.

So what Boston artists are you feeling right now?

Akrobatik and Edo G.! Those are my favourites right there. And also Edan and Insight. Insight actually lives in Germany right now. He lives in Boston, but he lives in Germany too. Yeah, Edan, Insight, Akrobatik, Edo G. those are my favourites right there.

Why did you chose to build The Perceptionists exactly with Akrobatik and Fakts One?

Because they are my best friends. Really, like there are two ways you can go on this business. You can be the type of person who doesn´t work with their friends and is always looking to hook up with the next big artist. When I do retire long time from now I look back and I’ll be like ‘Hey at least I made a record with my best friends’. And same thing with “Mo Mega”, it´s a record with El-P, who is one of my good friends. Same with “I Phantom”. I mean, all my records are a collection of my work with my friends. On “I Phantom” are El-P, Insight, Fakts One, Edan…It’s just like better to work with your family. When I get a record made by all those guys and then I can go and represent them all around the world. It´s a wonderful feeling.

In what kind of music were you interested when you were younger?

Well, I was listening to rock. I was listening to AC/DC. Of course all the pop stuff in the U.S.A. like Michael Jackson, Blondie even your German artist like Nena and ’99 balloons’ and all that stuff… My mum gave me a boombox in ´96 with the RUN DMC selftitled album. And I was ‘Ohhhh shit Hip Hop!’ And then I started listening to the radio all the time. The ‘Harvard University’, a very famous university right next to Boston had a great radio station. That´s where I heard Ultramagnetic MC´s and De La Soul. Then I started going to the record stores and buying stuff. I remember walking into a record store and seeing “Paid in Full” and “Three Feet High and Rising”. I was like “Wow, those records were out at the same time”. This was a great era!

You are someone who is thinking vividly, outside of a typical box. Just wondering if you have memories of not being accepted because of that?

Every single day. Seriously. Just even based on my hair. Most places I go, people always look at me funny. I’ve been an outcast all the time. You know, I am only in with my group of friends and the group of people that listen to me. Other than that the whole rest of the world people look at me strange, they don’t understand why I wear my hair like this. Some people think I am a bump, because obviously I can´t go and work in some fancy cooperation with hair like this.

I guess being different in the childhood was complicated too…

It takes a lot of strenght to be different. People do look at you funny and treat you differently. But I tell you one thing, most of my struggles are from my everyday life. After I dropped out of school and when I first started wearing dreadlocks. Actually the song “New Man Theme” is about that. I just talk about that my self-confidence was very low and my parents didn’t really accept what I had done, cause I dropped out of college. And noone in my family had been to a college as good as the one that I was at. I wasn’t an athlete anymore. I used to play football and icehockey. I stopped doing all of that. I even had earrings. My parents were like ‘What’s going on?’. I felt very bad during that period of time, I didn´t even like to leave the house. I would go and write on the train. I would always try to put myself in a place where I didn´t feel like people could see me. I felt very very bad. But it was a part of growing into who I am now. Luckily I was so strong enough to just stay on my course. And here I am now. But It´s not easy to be different and to follow your heart.

Could you please explain what´s the meaning behind the title of your new album “Mo Mega”?

Basically the word ‘Mo’ is black dialect for ‘more’, like ‘I want some mo’. And obviously the history of black people in North America is that they were slaves. So I took ‘Mo’ to represent the slave meaning. Those of us who are functioning under the power of the elite people that control the wealth and just trying to keep our head over water and survive. And ‘Mega’ represents the elite. The people with most of the money in the world and they construct the buildings and control the media and everything. And create the very complex world that we live in. It’s like the slave and the elite like judding up against one in other with no comment ground in between. We don’t understand the way that they live in and we don’t understand the way that they view us. And they don’t understand us at all yet they rule us. “Mo Mega” is a term that is meant to describe a condition of the times that we live in. We live in the state of “Mo Mega”. El-P and I came up with that. That’s why the album is very abrasive. The front of it is very dark and slow and then “Murs Iz My Manager” comes in and it’s so up-beat and after that we have “Washitup!”. Even though the world isn’t doing so well we all still manage to have our fun. People love to dance and everything. And then it comes back into “Long Distance”.

Talking about “Long Distance”, this track sounds to me very passionate and personal…

Yeah, the song really defines my adult life. I’ve been into long distance relationships my whole adult life. To me it’s just a reality of my situation and I know that anyone that is in love with someone that lives across the country or in another country knows what it is like to have the phone be the only way you can get in touch with that person or e-mail and how much you miss that person and how much you fantasized being close to that person and then when you get the chance to be close to this person it´s like an explosion. It’s passion. You can compare it maybe to an artist. When he feels like he or she is doing exactly what he wants to on the canvas. Or like an Emcee in the heat of writing a rhyme or recording a verse it’s just uncut raw passion. And to me life is all about passion. If you are not living with passion you probably feel very empty inside. So that song really is about passion. The first verse talks about the anticipation. In that situation I was in the same place as that person but couldn´t be alone with them. And that made it even more intense I just wanted to be with them even more. And when I got the opportunity to it was completely madness, because you miss that person and you also have to remind them why they don´t sleep with anyone else while you are gone. You got to give them something to remember. You have to. So that’s what the song is about. You don´t want your woman or your man to leave you, so…*laughs*

Well, I think that people who are in love with eachother wouldn’t cheat on you without any reason…

It’s true! But in a relationship like especially if you are with someone for a long time you can love them but you feel unfulfilled in a certain ways. People always find a reason to want something else. Always. Also there is a reason that they say ‘Variety is the spice of life’. It’s like, you don’t go to a restaurant and eat the same thing every day. You wanna go to different restaurants, you wanna eat that meal and this meal, you want to drive a different car, you wanna buy new sneakers, you don’t wear the same things every day. So, that’s why men and women, I think have so much trouble in a relationship, cause you are just with the same person for 5 or 10 years. And you can wish for a different type of love or you can wish for someone who understands your emotions more or someone that you can have better conversations with. There is always so many categories of things that people could want. But in that situation (speaking of “Long Distance”) there is so much sexual energy build up, cause you haven´t been with this person within a month. And you just wanna remind that person, like ‘Look, here I am, and I feel this strongly about you. I’m gonna blow your mind right now!’. And that’s what the song is about.

It seems like life is the best motivation for you. Especially if you have experienced such relationships…

Absolutely. That’s the thing too. That´s why I felt compelt to write about sexual intensity, because it is such an inspiration. It is one of those rare moments where you feel truly alive. You are in touch with your mind, your heart, your soul, your body. It´s all there and you are locked in with another person and they are feeling the same way. It´s one of those intense connections if it’s been done right. And obviously for me as a creative person it relies so much on passion. So to me all ties into what I do. It´s a very important part of my life.

If a lady doesn´t understand your passion for music and you should choose between the lady and Hip Hop, who will win?

Well the lady always looses. The person that you are with should understand your love for music, they should understand your love for your family. I am not saying like, if you have a love for clothes and you are broke but you spent every dollar you get on a new pair of sneakers, that’s not something that your lover should tolerate. They should try to help nurture you so that you feel good without those things. So you can buy those things when you have enough money and not when you don’t. Love of family, love of music, love of friends, this are all healthy things that can make a person whole. And I shouldn’t have said fashion, because some peoples fashion is their identity too, they like to look a certain way. They have a passion for expressing themselves through fashion, so I don’t even stand by the statement I just made. You gotta accept all aspects of a person as long as they are healthy aspects. You shouldn´t stop a person from doing what they love in their life, you should nurture them and help them grow. I am such a huge student of relationships. More than politics. That´s what I study is relationships. I’ve been in I guess 3 serious relationships in my adult life and they have all affected me differently. But yeah, I think that the one thing that is stayed is consistant, is that if I am gone for a while and I`ll see you it´s going to be very interesting when we meet up. *laughs*

“Ol’ Crew” from the Supperrappin Vol. 2 is one of my favourite tracks where a little part of your lyrics are going like this: ‘everytime I think about you, I smile…don’t forget your peoples no matter what you do…’. It kind of reminds me of what real, strong friendships supposed to be like.

Thank you so much. You know how you have different friends in different stages of life and sometimes you grow apart from people. You have a good friend in highschool but you went to different colleges. And you go to college, and there you have new friends. You still love your old friend, but you are not having the same experiences, so you grow apart a little bit. I have a group of young men that I was very good friends with right when I dropped out of college and they thought me about being a dread, about having dreadlocks. And the fact that I still have these is a symbol of my love and respect for them. It´s me being myself and also a testament in how much they impacted my life. I don´t even know how to get in touch with those guys. I wrote that song as a type of thing like ‘Hey, hopefully they hear this one day and they know I still love them!’ That´s what that song is about.

So, there are no religious reasons about wearing dreadlocks, it´s only a symbol of your love for them? Do you believe in any kind of religion?

No. Actually I don´t believe in religion. I think that too many people have died because of religious wars and I think that religion is ultimately just used to confuse people. So that they feel like they are missing something. The biggest trick that anyone can pull on you is from a young age when you are just learning your ABC, you are just learning to walk, already convince you that something is missing from your life. Because to me God is a very natural thing. God is the air and the trees and all living things. And human beings were a part of the animal kingdom. We try to separate ourselves from the bees, beavers etc. but we are all animals. It’s just that we think that we are so much better, cause we have the type of intelligence that can be used to differ all those other things. But the bee makes a beehive, and the beaver builds a dam, you know what I mean. The dam can’t fly like an airplain does, but we are not greater than all those things. And it´s the fact that we think that we’re so much better that’s destroying the earth. We are the ones making all the poison. I just keep a very natural approach to it all and I don’t spend my time worrying about whether I am acting right and pleasing God. Cause so many people do that. To live the right way is I think to just live your life. You know in your heart what’s wrong. You shouldn´t walk down the street and punch someone in the face. That’s not right. You don´t do shit like that to people. You treat people with respect and you get respect as a return. I just think that living in harmony with other people is fine. And it´s not that I don’t believe in God, I do believe in God. Like I do believe that there was a force that has created us all. The whole thing is just to not stress out. You just have a conscious for that.

From where do you get your inspiration to stay creative?

From everything. Inspirations from conversations like this. Inspirations from the type of day I had today, I layed in bed and rested. I love to listen to music, because I am a musician and it just moves me. I listen to all different types of music. It brings me in different moods. I can throw on like the “Sea Change” album by Beck, which is all very mellow and smooth and slow and sorrowful. Or I can listen to “Follow The Leader” by Eric. B & Rakim. That’s why music is so important, because it helps people feel.

What music have you been listening to lately?

I like Becks’, last two albums. I like Blond Redhead, I love the new Ghostface, I love the new Murs album. Let me see. I still listen to my Old School, like “Follow The Leader”, old Public Enemy and Ultramagnetic MC’s, I still listen to “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. I even listen to some of the new Michael Jackson of “Invinsible”.

You have some ill freestyle skills, which I think the people already know about. Do you thing that having this talent is necessarily important for your writing process?

It’s very important, I think. It keeps you sharp. When I hear a new beat and I don’t know how to write to it I can sit there and freestyle to it for a little while. And that will help me figure out. I can flow like this way to it or I can flow like that way to it. This type of content sounds good over it, it should be a lighthearted rhyme, shouldn’t be a political rhyme to it, shouldn’t be a lovesong. You can figure it out, if you can just sit there and freestyle to it a little bit. So, it is important. Plus it keeps you sharp as an Emcee. Keeps your mind sharp.

Are you also interested in movies? If yes, do you have some favourite films?

Well, only if I got time. Usually it’s like at the end of the day when I am tired and I fall asleep on them. But there is a lot of things that I wanna see still, I just haven´t had the chance to see them yet. Hm…favourite films. “Halloween 1 & 2. I like horrorfilms. I’m big into horrorfilms. I would have to say those are two of my favourite movies of all time. I also like the movie “Flash Gordon”, it was a movie that came out in the 80′s. I was just a little kid. I love fantastical stuff like “Neverending Story”, “Flash Gordon”. I like “Shorshut Redemption” with Morgan Freeman and Tim Robins. There´s a lots of movies I like. I like “Hell Razor”, it’s a horror film. I like to watch a lot of different types of stuff.

What would be your next goals, your dreams and hopes for the future?

Right now I am focusing on finding interesting new artist that are independent like in different cities, listening to what they are doing and see what the new wave of music is gonna be, because I wanna go and grow and change my style and come up with something that is compeltely different that people expect. I don’t want my next album to sound anything like “Mo Mega”, maybe I´ll make some dance music, but I will still be me. It’ll be just me growing. Just like Outkast does. Every record Outkast does is so different. I wanna be like what they’re doing. I am working on it. I am not there yet, but I am working on it. “Mo Mega” was about coming back to who people know me. While being extremly personal and taking my own personal steps forward, it was about doing something for my corefans. And now I´m gonna do some more stuff for me, just kinda grow out of control! *laughs*

Do you have any final words for the Hip Hop lovers out there?

Yeah, absolutely. “Mo Mega” comes out on June 13th and it took me a long time to make this record. I made it with my friend El-P and my friend Edan who produced “Murs Iz My Manager”, and I produced a song and it’s just a lot of fun and I hope everyone out there enjoys it.