o’Mega is Mr. Lif’s first regular, no sub-clauses record. After two astonishing EPs, a live album, a rarities comp and his high-concept debut, Lif has finally joined the ranks of the working rappers. He doesn’t sound entirely pleased with the proposition, returning from the four year break since I, Phantom with “Collapse,” a song about a rapper running himself into the ground, waking up “rocking yesterday’s attire.” Where before he promised to “use a towel to / Catch innards of those we disembowel for / Foul play,” now he merely wishes to “hack up your frame.” Lif has replaced Mortal Kombat playtime with bulletins from the war.
Lif has charted an ambitious, quixotic path between squeaky-clean “conscious” rap, old school revivalism, and hyper-futurism. He wants to change the way you think but still be a B-boy, like Common, only without the smarminess or Will and Grace sweater collection. He set the gold-and-diamond-encrusted standard for rhymes of self-realization with “Because They Made It That Way,” but it was only released as a single, raising the question of whether Lif’s particular genius could survive the transition to album format.
Mo’ Mega is also Lif’s first regular record because it is the first to abide by two of the great rap album commandments: Thou shalt record at least one song about fucking (“Long Distance”); and, Thou shalt record at least one song of saccharine devotion to family (“For You”). But because Lif is both a ghetto philosopher and a Knight of the Round Table (self described), both tracks come with a twist. “For You” is as earnest as Will Smith’s “Just the Two of Us,” but the central conceit—Lif explaining to his child he hasn’t yet fathered—neatly opens the song to Lif’s ever-present apprehension and anger about the state of the world.
“Long Distance” details a reconvened relationship pent-up by the presence of a roommate and friend: “The tension’s mega-advanced / You make one false move and I’ll be seizing my chance / Oh you fucked up / Leave and go into the kitchen / Heading to the sink to put a dirty dish in / I excuse myself and follow / Knowing I won’t see you both until tomorrow.” It’s Lif’s deft attention to the setup that makes the track, like the counter-slapping bathroom sex that follows, pay off despite El-P’s highly unsexy neo-industrial vocabulary (which is something like the boom-clang of Björk’s Selmasongs but with all traces of Sound of Music naivety scorched off with flamethrowers).
Which makes the pair of Edan-produced tracks, “Murs Is My Manager” and “Washitup” a welcome mid-record respite, even if the latter’s advice on feminine hygiene is a little suspect from a man who hasn’t washed his hair in ten years. Lif’s fulminations can come off curmudgeonly, but he can always get at the elementary egotism of hip-hop as well: “Murs Is My Manager” proposes not only that Al Gore would like to cameo on Lif’s album and Lif on Ben Affleck’s, but that Lif “put Kanye West up to saying all that / To distract the government from the true political rap.”
Lif’s greatest strength remains his pissy paranoia: the government wants to control you, take over the world, and kill people. “The Fries” begins with acerbic couplets about “scanlines on your tanlines” and “people who don’t survive through the drive-thru,” over a beat that is as close to jaunty as El-P is constitutionally capable. But beating up on McD’s, like critiquing Cheney’s marksmanship, is as cheap and dirty as a Happy Meal. Lif can do better. The song slips into a carbo-grease-loaded stupor and awakens as something slippier, heart rate soaring like I, Phantom’s epic “Return of the B-Boy.” “Frustration, living in prostration / Wanna wash the blood off your hands / But you can’t / It’s on too thick, too many trips overseas / To disarm, bomb and spread the disease / Who got it? I got it. Epidemic. Panic. Widespread. Nine Dead. Until we lie down and pull the covers over our head / Goddamnit / Gobble up the next planet.” The song ends in mid-phrase, unresolved, fear rising into the air like smoke.