Mr. Lif

Live at the Middle East

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Live at the Middle East is possibly the most unusual hip-hop album ever released. The idea of an artist essentially subjecting a paying audience to previously unreleased material (some of which is being improvised live onstage) is considered esoteric, the province of jazz and jam bands. By hip-hop standards, it's unheard of. Mr. Lif, however, is not your typical hip-hop artist, which renders Live at the Middle East a fascinating experiment. Not only is Lif a skilled MC and articulate lyricist, he has a quirky, original sense of humor, so in addition to one entire track dedicated to how Lif beat his DJ at Nintendo, there's also a spontaneous three-song cycle dramatizing an MC who starts off as an underground rapper, scores a major-label deal, and realizes he can never write a meaningful rhyme again. In addition to unveiling some material he recorded but did not release (such as the witty work-sucks diatribe "Live From the Plantation"), Lif invites his DJ Akbar and fellow rapper Akrobatic in an extended freestyle session, including a clever rhyme improvised when the record skips. Whether rapping about nuclear war in "Earthcrusher" or reminiscing about his past hairstyles in "Dreafro," Lif is simply one of the smartest, most original rappers around, and the range of his humor and skills makes Live at the Middle East a superb release to please any fan of smart, well-crafted hip-hop.

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