When he began releasing singles in the late '90s, party rap was the dominant style most MCs favored, but Mr. Lif's lyrical agenda was a political and socially conscious one that recalled the rap stars of the previous decade -- Public Enemy, Gang Starr, and Boogie Down Productions. Born Jeffrey Haynes, Mr. Lif grew up in the Boston, MA, 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. 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 follow-up to I Phantom, featuring eight productions from El-P and features from Murs, Aesop Rock, and Blueprint. [AMG Wade Kergan]