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The Perceptionists Mr. Lif interview: Politically Charged

Author: Benjamin Preiss
Saturday, April 8, 2006

The US city of Boston pales in recognition for its hip hop artists when compared with its well known counterparts of New York or LA. But since the late '90s Boston has fostered a creative and innovative hip hop environment and growing in importance in the hip hop landscape. Hailing from Boston underground rapper Mr Lif - part of trio The Perceptionists has been an important part of the emerging importance of Boston's hip hop community.

Mr Lif (aka Jeffrey Haynes) now lives in Philadelphia, but his solo albums and group efforts have helped put Boston on the hip hop map. It was records like 'Emergency Rations' and 'I Phantom' that established Lif's reputation as a politically inclined rapper.

"I'm inspired by my predecessors like Public Enemy. I was just around during a period of time in hip hop where people were really saying something. That's just a part of me. I don't feel it's right to make an album and not say shit about the state of affairs. I gotta say something," he explains.

Mr Lif's critical approach to mainstream politics is accompanied by a suspicious mistrust of the media and news services. His critique, apparent on tracks like 'Live From the Plantation', evince a disregard for the struggles of everyday life. However, he is not unsympathetic to those who work at jobs for which they have no passion.

"That's the position we're put in. That's what I was doing before. I made a decision to just jump off the ledge into the abyss of the rap world. I consciously made a decision that I was going to make all my money from being a musician or I was going to be broke. I can't really afford to spend time doing what I don't love," he says.

"The last thing I'm going to do is get caught out there not doing what I want to do. That seems absurd to me… a lot of people unfortunately have to do shit that they don't love doing because they can't make money doing what they love doing or they can't figure out how to make money doing what they love. There are so many different reasons, it's unfortunate. There are so many people that get stuck in jobs they don't like at all because they got the benefits - there are all types of reasons people don't move on."

The recently released album, 'Black Dialogue', by The Perceptionists, which includes Akrobatik and DJ Fakts One gave all Haynes to rap about subjects other than politics and issues of social awareness.

"We just wanted to make something fun. For me a big part of my motivation really was the fact that I'd been so pigeonholed by my past work. People really just expected me to be only political. The songs on 'Black Dialogue' that mean the most to me are the love songs. Relationships with people are more important than politics to be honest. My relationship with my family, my lady and my friends are the things that mean a lot to me," he says.

Haynes acknowledges his upbringing gave him a different experience to most other black Americans. Having grown up in a home with a strong focus on education, it is not difficult to see where Haynes bent for political thought were born.

"The fact that my mom and dad are from Barbados is like I have a whole different perspective on life in America as a black man. When they left Barbados there was a 99 percent literacy rate. They had a wealth of black professionals all around them, consistently through their growing up. They made a decision before they had me that there was no way I wasn't going to attend some of the more elite educational institutions in America. They just made whatever sacrifices necessary to send me to the best schools. That's something that I think is the most valuable things that ever happened to me - the places they sent me to learn. Honestly I learned so much in high school that by the time I got to college it was all about just being myself. That's why I dropped