When he began releasing singles in the late '90s, party rap and gangsta rap were the dominant styles most MCs favored, but Mr. Lif's lyrical agenda was a political and socially conscious one that recalled the rap stars of the late '80s and early '90s -- Public Enemy, Gang Starr, and Boogie Down Productions. Born Jeffrey Haynes, Mr. Lif grew up in the Boston, Massachusetts suburb of Brighton, attending college for two years before focusing on a music career. He released his first single, "Elektro," in 1998, attracting the attention of labels Grand Royal and Def Jux. Working closely with producer and Def Jux label head El-P, Lif released a series of critically acclaimed singles and EPs, starting with Enters the Colossus in 2000. Touring kept him busy for the next year, but he still found time to release the "Cro-Magnon" single and a live CD, Live at the Middle East.
His most ambitious work to date followed in 2002 with a pair of concept releases; the Emergency Rations EP bookended collaborations with Edan and Akrobatik in an MC abduction scenario, while the I Phantom full-length formed a saga that led him from birth to apocalypse. He revisited his Akrobatik collaboration in 2005, when the pair joined producer Fakts One to form the Perceptionists, who released Black Dialogue, also on Definitive Jux. One year later he returned with Mo' Mega, his proper follow-up to I Phantom, featuring eight productions from El-P and appearances from Murs, Aesop Rock, and Blueprint. I Heard It Today, released in 2009 on Bloodbot Tactical, contained some of the most pointed lyrics of his career. The aptly titled Don't Look Down followed seven years later on the Mello Music Group and was filled with "agnostic sermons," ones that got the Boston MC through a particularly dark time in his life. ~ Wade Kergan