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Critically acclaimed Boston artist Mr. Lif celebrates Wednesday night’s World Series home-game win with the release of his new self-produced song “Boston Strong”. The track is an anthemic testament to Lif’s love for the city he grew up in, written in light of this year’s Boston Marathon tragedy.
Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts Lif brokeout with his Enters The Colossus EP (Def Jux 2000), establishing him as one of the most ambitious and forward-thinking MCs in the game. He further cemented this status with a string of acclaimed releases including the “Emergency Rations” (EP), and “I Phantom” (LP).
Tired of clichés, a culture in crisis, and a floundering economy, Lif stands apart as a new breed of MC appealing to listeners tired of hearing about the trivialities of hyper-consumerism and egomania that have infested hip hop culture and society. Based on the strength of his releases and relentless live show, Lif has been featured by MTV, Rolling Stone, SPIN, The NY Times, Entertainment Weekly, and XXL among others.
Mr. Lif is a 9 time Boston Music Awards Winner and is also vocalist for the world-renowned music group Thievery Corporation.
Performer Magazine’s Amanda Macchia sat down with Mr. Lif after the video shoot for the track to discuss the meaning behind the song.
It’s been almost 7 months since the Boston Marathon bombing. Last night the Red Sox won the World Series at home for the first time since 1918. When did you start writing this song?
I started writing the song very soon after the bombing. I had a conversation with a friend who said that after the incident happened, she was scouring the web to find songs about Boston. She was looking for any sort of Boston anthem or theme song she could spread through social media to instill an immediate sense of pride & strength into the then rattled city. She said she had to go back almost a decade to find anything that could be even remotely considered.
She didn’t find an anthem. She found a couple songs that addressed Boston, but that was all. I found that to be terribly sad. So while “Boston Strong” started off as a song mainly intended to breathe good energy into the city, a healing energy, after the marathon bombing… the extra time it has taken to work on the song has been a blessing.
I wanted to create an anthem for Boston. I love this city, and whether or not my song is becomes considered an actual anthem by many, it is my version of an anthem. My personal expression of love to a city that has given me so much in so many ways.
In earlier incarnations of the song, some of the lyrics read “Seeing all these people in my home town frown / Fear in the air / And debris on the ground”. I removed these words because, in the long run, I decided to take a cue from the chorus, which is about moving on. People really came together around the adversity, helped one another, lifted one another up. We were back on our feet so quickly, and it was so impressive that it made me love the city even more.
So, the song is about much more than the Boston Marathon?
The song has shifted into being more of a celebration of the city, which also sights the resilience of it’s people. One of Boston’s darkest hours sparked one of it’s brightest eras as people mobilized to support one another in the wake of the bombing. The phrase “Boston Strong” was born at that time.
In my opinion, with every day that passes, that phrase describes us increasingly as we continue to strive to create an even more brilliant collective consciousness as the hallmark of our city.
You have moved around a lot throughout your career. But you’re back in Boston now, what do you love about this city that you wanted to translate into “Boston Strong”?
I love Boston for being a really great place to just kind of be a space cadet. To just zone out and let my imagination ride. It’s a place that offers you a city, but it doesn’t put the city on the back of your neck. I feel like there’s other cities that are a little overbearing to me. Whether it’s because their population is higher, the buildings are taller, or they’re more of a sprawl. Boston, I feel like I can manage and understand even though all the streets are diagonal and either one way or oddly intended for two way traffic.
Growing up I had a love/hate relationship with Boston because it was all I knew. Once I started traveling, especially to European cities, and seeing the architecture and coming back home, I finally realized that Boston is actually really beautiful. And it has that special thing that I’ve now come to really cherish, which is a uniqueness and a kind of weirdness all on its own. I feel like people commonly use New York as the definition of “East Coast” & LA to define the “West”. That’s why I mention those cities in the song.
We are not them, and quite proudly not them in my opinion. We don’t have all the hoopla and hype, but I feel that if a city like New York is worthy of every other MC or, fuck it, every MC writing at least one song about Brooklyn, or Manhattan, or some part, then so does Boston.
There’s been some controversy over the slogan Boston Strong – concerns regarding the rush to trademark the phrase, as well as the commercialization and branding of a tragedy. How do you feel about that?
It took a very dark hour for the City of Boston to finally to have that spark of innovation in coining it’s key phrase. It is a branding that our city finally has. I know it came out of this terrible adversity, but you know what? A lot of beautiful things have come out of adversity – lots of different types of art, music, inventions. Necessity is the mother of invention! So I feel that its only right that is where it came from.
I feel like with that phrase “Boston Strong” we have that thing, some of added cache that maybe a New York has had. Any time it’s said to me I immediately think of the way the community rallied around one another at a time of adversity. It feels like, Hey! If something happens here, we’ve got each other’s backs. We’re not just going to crumble. We’re not just going to fall and be defeated. This city fights. And thats why one of the first things I mention in the song is the sports teams. This city has such a rich history of high level performance for its athletes. We hold our athletes as examples of the mettle of our city.
As the Red Sox just proved!
People in Philadelphia would choke someone for, say, the Eagles to win a championship! Boston has that. The Red Sox just won the World Series again. The Bruins were just in the Stanley Cup Final. The Patriots, every few years, are in the Super Bowl. There’s just something about that when you can look at the team that reps your area and see them excelling on a national level. It means something.
Boston really has forged it’s identity as a sports town, too. There’s a commitment to excellence here that is rare. For all of its athletics. Celtics. Bruins. Red Sox. Patriots. They all have titles. Multiple titles. Banners galore hanging in the stadiums. It’s something that I personally take pride in, and I think the City takes a great deal of pride in it as well.
No doubt. So, Lif, this is the first self-produced track you’ve released in a while. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
The process of producing “Boston Strong” really forced me to grow as a producer. It seemed the more I developed the track, the more it called for. Luckily for me, this is a phase of my life where I happen to know some outstanding musicians who could help me bring the sounds in my head to fruition.
For example, I had Thievery Corporation’s drummer, Jeff Franca play the Congas on the track. Will Rast of Funk Ark played the keys. Jesse Gallagher played bass and piano. Doug Tuttle played the main guitar line.
In most cases, the musicians played something raw. Once they sent me the files, I dumped them into Maschine to chop and arrange the parts the way I needed them to fit into the song. A large undertaking, but I’m happy with the result.
I’ve also got to give props to my engineer Adam Rourke for bringing this all together in a cohesive mix.
I know you’ve got like… I can’t even count how many collaborations and albums in the works right now. It’s like you’re gearing up to take over the City of Boston, maybe even bring back the Golden Era of hip hop. Can you talk about a couple of your upcoming projects?
I do have quite a few things in the works. Right now, I’m most excited about this self produced project called “Return of Colossus” which features me on the beats and rhymes with DJ Q Bert on the cuts.
Also, I’m very excited about this project I’ve been working on with Brass Menazeri where I’m rhyming over Balkan brass.
If I can add another, I’m really looking forward to this full length album which I consider my opus. It’s produced by Taylormade and Apex. They’re two talented producers from NY. That album features a similar story telling style to “I Phantom” while exploring some topics that have been at the center of my adult life.
Final words for your fans, Lif?
I thank all my current fans and fans-to-be for their support. Come build with me at Facebook.com/mrlif. I love y’all!