If nothing else, 2006 may teach us that political rebels like to fuck too. There are two tracks on the Coup’s Pick a Bigger Weapon that refer in no uncertain terms to revolutionaries rutting. Sure, it’s been said before; even the hardest of hardcore, Dead Prez, devoted a cringe-worthy track to “Mind Sex” (though it’s easily bested by U-God‘s “Black Shampoo” on the unintentional comedy scale). But the simple humanity of Mr. Lif getting his mack on shoots Mo’ Mega into new territory.
The first five tracks don’t veer too much from the conscious style Mr. Lif has demonstrated in the past, especially on his powerful 2002 concept album, I Phantom. Powered by El-P’s noise collages and Lif’s elongated verbal rhythms, Mo’ Mega takes the chaos of modern life and lays it bare, touching on subjects such as inner-city strife, the war in Iraq, and the oppression of consumerism and fast food. The most important line in “Take, Hold, Fire!” might be the tossed-off verse-ender “I know they’re listening, so P.S.: Fuck the feds,” which Lif offers as a coda and Aesop Rock picks up and repeats for an intro. The paranoia that Company Flow hyped up with sci-fi samples seems prescient in today’s era of government wiretapping and fear mongering, and here it gets offered as self-evident truth: the CIA’s been spying on you for a minute, so go get a late pass.
But the album’s second half challenges listeners with its veering intents. Its focus goes from global to personal, and its tone swerves from ponderous to humorous and sexual. “Murs Iz My Manager” brings some much needed levity. Lif takes over on the boards with a refreshingly simple track powered by a funky bass line and scratched horns, and Murs and Lif trade verses in a mockery of fame and publicity (with one line, “playing black jack with Jack Black,” sounding positively like Aceyalone. “Washitup” kicks the humor up a notch and sounds the first alarm on Lif’s new sexy persona; in an exaggerated accent from the islands, Lif explores matters of hygiene and getting busy, recalling such classics as … EPMD’s “Who’s Booty?” If the album has a misstep, this may be it, even more so than the booty-clap noise effect on “Long Distance.”
Yep, you read that right. Sure, Digital Underground dedicated a verse to the acoustics of slapping skins, but coming from Lif and following a first half of precise intellectual salvos, the effect of “Long Distance” is jarring, but it’s necessary. The song reins in the album’s high-mindedness and reminds us of the importance of life’s base pleasures. We might have seen the first signs of personal attachment on “Love Letters” by the Perceptionists (Lif’s celebrated 2005 project with Akrobatik and Fakts One), but the shift into sexual frankness on Mo’ Mega splashes like cold water on a listener zoned out on the political diatribes.
The album’s last few tracks touch on personal relations in different ways — sexual and familial — as career and life intrude on human connections. “For You” nicely condenses the album’s themes. Lif drives on a cross-country stretch and talks to a child he may never have, weighing his love for its mother against the shakiness of a world steeped in a corporate-sponsored paper chase. The global and the personal themes come together in a fitting conclusion.
The album’s contrasting halves may initially perplex listeners, but the two sides complement each other. Less certain is the success of El-P’s production. Its layers of noise deftly incorporate samples familiar to hip-hop heads (“Here we go!” on “The Fries,” “Hold it now!” on “Brothers”), or leaven the synth chaos with a clear instrument shining through (the piano plinks on “Take, Hold, Fire!” bring some much needed treble). The production is often wonderful, bombastic and orchestral, but it’s layered to the point of muddiness at times. When that happens, it meshes too seamlessly with Lif’s raspy monotone, keeping it from standing out. The three tracks without El-P’s board work are lighter without being breezy, providing a necessary respite.
But the album’s great achievement is that it melds the civic with the personal. Mo’ Mega spans a bigger range in its eleven tracks than most albums twice its length.
Definitive Jux Web site (streaming audio)
Mr. Lif Web site (streaming audio)Stream Mo’ Mega