The Perceptionists: Black Dialogue
"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 and this motherfucking club is crunk. Put another way, Black Dialogue is 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.
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