Mr. Lif does not want his car sprayed with bullets. He's not even tempted to blast his way through South Central double-fisting glocks with the mofo 5-0 on his ass. Instead, Mr. Lif dreams of someday sunbathing on the French Rivera again.
"Why would I want someone to want to kill me?" he asks. "Why would I want someone looking for me and have to kill them to survive? I don't know about you, but I wouldn't opt for that. I'd rather just kick back with some peace of mind and live my life."
So Lif isn't a bad-ass-at least not in the 50 Cent way. But Lif argues that very few of these chest-thumping MCs are actually the bangers they pretend to be. He believes rap is full of frauds, which is what makes it so homogeneous (and let's face it-modern rap is pop music's most homogeneous genre. Well, besides country. OK, besides modern country and modern punk and maybe modern heavy metal).
"Honesty is the foundation of diversity," says Lif. "If all these guys making music were actually being honest with themselves, there would be a larger scope of topics discussed in music. But 90 percent of these cats are just straight-up lying."
When Lif was a kid, rap was different. Everything from Public Enemy and LL Cool J to Salt-N-Pepa and A Tribe Called Quest was topping hip-hop charts during Lif's teen years.
"There was a whole era of rap that was about black consciousness and being an effective member of society as a young black man," he says. "I had an endless list of really interesting young black men to look up to as a kid.
"And Atari had just come out," he adds with excitement. "It was a cool time. The late '80s-insane."
But in the '90s, rap became less about art, culture and politics and, as these young hip-hoppers say, all about the Benjamins.
"People flow towards commerce," says Lif. "It's just lucrative to make music that follows certain criteria, and so that's what most people are doing."
Of course, Lif isn't following the formula-and, not surprisingly, he's not sporting a gold-plated grill or driving a Benz. He is, as the hippies in De La Soul might say, following his bliss.
Since around 1998, Lif has been part of the Definitive Jux label's East Coast crew. Founded by underground hip-hop tastemaker El-Producto (El-P), Def Jux is a small label devoted to rap without the gangsta. Fittingly, it's the perfect home for an MC like Lif, who's more into introspection and attacking Bush's Iraq war than bitches and ho's.
Not surprisingly, Lif and the Def Jux crew have found as much if not more success in Europe as it has in the States. Which brings us back to the French Rivera.
"Hanging in the South of France and swimming in the Mediterranean, that blew my mind," he says. "I think about the first tour I ever did, which was in Europe. When I came back from that I realized I needed to get right back in the studio and make a classic so I could get back out on tour. I just want to see everything all over again."
So it's a wussy dream-50 Cent may balk, but I think Chuck D would be proud.
Mr. Lif plays with The Coup at House of Blues on Friday, Dec. 1. Doors open at 10 p.m. $20. 619-299-BLUE.