By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
"Iraq ain't looking so good," sneers indie rapper Sole on his latest album, "but this motherfucking club is crunk." That's second-from-the-top-shelf sarcasm, but as Sole knows, not even the soggiest wet blanket can extinguish the mighty blaze of a sufficiently crunk nightspot. The Perceptionists' Black Dialogue seems to modify Sole's quip with one crucial conjunction exchange: Iraq ain't looking so good andthis motherfucking club is crunk. Put another way, Black Dialogueis a leftist party record: alarmed but not paranoid, disgusted but not defeated, convinced that radicals are born on the dance floor and thus never guilty about composing love raps and having a good time.
The Perceptionists are DJ Fakts One and Boston-bred MCs Akrobatic, straightforward and spirited, and Mr. Lif, bohemian and laid-back like Q-Tip or Guru, who makes a guest appearance on "Party Hard," which could party harder. (Humpty Hump also does a walk-on, adding his sophisticated goofiness to the "Sex Packets"-like groove of "Career Finders.") Akrobatic rhymes with the confidence of a man who could almost certainly take you out but has better things to do. He's a born storyteller with a novelist's eye for detail. His crush in "Love Letters," for instance, isn't just any schoolteacher--she teaches his friend's son, who's a second-grader, and when the MC meets her, she's not just working, she's preparing face-paint and fried-dough activities. Also, she has a fine ass, which too is important, though the word "ass" is respectfully avoided ("And all of this before I peeped the gluteus/Maximum anxiety, played the shy role/Gave you a 'hello' and a subtle eye roll"). Akrobatic's only real misstep is his verse from the album closing "Breath in the Sun," in which he goes on about a two-month tropical vacation on an album otherwise tied to working-class realism.
Mr. Lif, whose funny and trenchant 2002 concept album I Phantom is a must-have like socks in winter, calmly issues sheets of internal rhymes and atypical metaphors ("Hard tracks remind me of blacks with scarred backs/These are facts drownin' in the swamp like Artax/Bost to Fairfax, chill, watch Miramax flicks.") I like that, though Miramax can be dicey. The two MCs either trade lines or verses, playing off each other with we've-been-friends-forever bonhomie and making good on the album's title by offering two takes on twelve take-worthy subjects. "Memorial Day" presents a pair of American soldiers using their disillusion in Iraq; "Black Dialogue," given a rubbery beat by Willie Evans Jr., smacks down corporate-rap and mass-cult minstrelsy ("And my TV's always off, 'cause I see somethin' truly black then").
Sometimes, though, the Perceptionists just rhyme about rhymin', and there's no shame in that. "Me and Mr. Lif back-to-back for the past decade," raps Akrobatic on the grimy, EL-P-produced "Bló," "Now we're movin' on to the next phase/New album, world tour, let's get paid." Yeah, go for it.