Underground Report: Mr. Lif & MOOD
Most notable for their debut album Doom, Cincinnatis MOOD has been laying low ever since at least as a group. The focus has been on the trios (Donte, Mainflow and Jahson) solo careers, and that focus recently shifted to a time and place in which MOOD felt it necessary to come together once again. This time around, their purpose is served with stronger conviction as the group readies to drop Hall of Fame, which is expected to deal with the postmortem stage of Hip Hop as well as prevailing socio-political issues facing many Americans today. DX's Underground Report sits down with Donte to discuss the Hall of Fame (featuring Talib Kweli, Killah Priest and Jake One among others), the meaning of an Obama win and MOODs answer to Hip Hop and handouts.
HipHopDX: MOOD is back! You just released the video for Drugs, War and Crime, the albums first single. It sheds light on global socio-political issues and is filmed in Cincinnati as well as Columbia, Venezuela and Mexico. What did MOOD want to get across with this song and video?
Donte: Our main point with the video is [to present] a global issue. It not only affects us here in the U.S., it also affects the people, children, and political relations in countries all across our hemisphere. Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela are major exporters of drugs to and they are also major importers of our [weapons]. The politicians who allow, exploit and enable such things dont feel the brunt of the problems. The problems trickle down to every day people.
DX: The album differs much from your debut, 1997's Doom, at least in subject matter. What was the groups intent this time around?
Donte: To return to the essence of Hip Hop: to music with some substance, ideas, creativity; to become a voice for some of the voiceless. Hip Hop was introduced to me as a way to express myself about things Ive either seen or experienced - or wanted to express some type of emotion or opinion about. Theres more than enough people making dance or pop hop and not enough making music as a soundtrack to the life all lead every day; the political, personal, and thought-provoking decisions we are faced with. Some people make music only for entertainment purposes; our album will entertain and inspire the listeners to think and contemplate.
DX: What is the reason for MOOD being absent from the scene, as a group, for a decade?
Donte: MOOD has not been out the game, the game has had an absent-minded MOOD. Everything in life has a time, a place, and purpose; ours is now. I personally have felt sick to my stomach over the direction in which the artist decided to take Hip Hop. In a song I did with some local artist from the 'Nati [Whosane], Built to Last, I said this Hip Hops been devoured but other genres empowered cause they put it in their music and we took it out ours. I think the younger generation of artists needs to be schooled on their Hip Hop. They have a tendency to put out hot singles and ring tones but release shitty albums. I havent bought a Hip Hop album in quite awhile. Reason being is if everybody is talking money clothes, cars and hoes, all I need to do is put T.I.s [click to read] old single on repeat. I appreciate Nass Untitled project [click to read] and a few other albums but, for the most part, I heard it all before. So in short, Im smelling myself and Im the shit; take a whiff and you can smell the manure. The rap game makes me sick so I developed a cure. Its The Hall of Fame.
DX: Are the original MOOD fans still on the look-out for the group, and how do you think this album will be received by the new generation?
Donte: I think our fans still love what we do; because although we have grown, what MOOD stands for hasnt changed. The new generation of fans and artist pretty much face the same problems that we faced a decade ago when we first surfaced. As for the new generation, we need to inspire them and raise awareness of us. As for our original fan base, we need to reassure them that we are not just MOOD from the Doom album. We are also MOOD that belongs in the Hall of Fame for our efforts to preserve the original essence of Hip Hop and take it to the next level of the game: classic Hip Hop in a disposable Hip Hop era.
DX: MOOD is often credited for jump-starting the careers of Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek. There are people within the industry who feel that a return is due and perhaps at least with Kweli, hes not showing that gratitude. What do you have to say about that?
Donte: Good question; I am asked that question more than a little bit. I personally dont feel like they owe me. However, I understand the perception of it for those on the outside looking in. I was out at a Hip Hop event last night and a fan/artist approached me and said something like, You should shit on Kweli [click to read] and Hi-Tek [click to read] because you helped them get in the game and they left you behind. My response: I as man feel like I am responsible for my own success as well as my failures. I dont want to make a career off of tearing down someone else to build up my name. I am a real good friend to Hi-Tek and Kweli. Its unlikely Ill turn to another person that I helped put in the game and say, You should help put me in the game in turn. Its oxymoronic. In theory, it sounds good; in real life, itll never work! My advice to those of you who would like to know the answer to this question is ask Hi-Tek and Kweli.
DX: Fair enough. MOOD is Ohios home-grown. Where does the state stand right now in terms of Hip Hop? Are there any particular trends?
Donte: Hip Hop is in the state of Ohio, Ohio is in a state of denial [laughing]. There is plenty of talent, very few outlets. The trends are about the same that exist in most mid-size cities in America. The radio deejays are not record breakers for local acts. The big problem with Hip Hop in mid-cities is that the whole city/region can be sold out through the one station that actually plays Hip Hop. If you turn on a radio station here you would think there are only 15 artists in the world and only 15 songs the public wants to hear. The flipside of that is that the bar has been set so low: a nice beat and a hook. Now everybody that hears it feels like if the radio station is playing low to no talent artist, they can make a record too. Let me say this clearly: everybody cant rap, everybody cant make beats. Some of yall should just be fans. Real talk. If everybody is making music, who is left to listen to it? [Laughing]
DX: In light of the upcoming elections and your passion for American politics, lets touch on a couple things. First, how do you think the respective leaders (John McCain and Barack Obama) have been running the campaign so far?
Donte: I feel like both campaigns have been fought very hard. There have been some very low blows - particularly on the McCain side. He has tried to tie Obama to a domestic terrorist who bombed the Pentagon when Obama was eight. After the way they treated the 9/11 Muslim terrorist, you would think he would be in GTMO right? Nope, hes a professor in a major university in Illinois. Teaching his radical views to our young men and women. Wheres the outrage? I guess thats part of white privilege in America. He [McCain] has tried to attack his [Obamas] patriotism, claiming hes fighting from the side lines and saying he wants to surrender in Iraq. Meanwhile our country is going broke, fighting a war with no means to an end. To put it short, McCain cant win on the issues so he issues insults and personal attacks.
DX: What would an Obama win mean for the average American citizen? The McCain win?
Donte: I cant speak for the average citizen due to the fact that Im above an average man. [Laughing]. I can tell you what an Obama win means to me. It means our country is in someway ready for something more than change. It means we might actually be ready to judge a man by his character not the color of his skin. It means we are ready to start accepting the fact that our senate, congress, and the positions of power should look more like the make-up of our country. People from all backgrounds, races, corners of America should make decisions on the direction our country should take. Not just a few white people in the White House. It means our image in the world might be restored as a beacon of light and hope. It means we might have a future of prosperity not just posterity. Most of all, it means our little black children in America and all over the world have a role model that inspires them to believe they can be and achieve whatever they can conceive. Go Obama!
A McCain win means Im moving to Canada.
DX: [Laughing] We keep hearing the word experience thrown around in reference to Obama. Is he really ready to lead, and if so, what signs does Obama give off which characterize such leadership?
Donte: Nobody has the experience to be the president of the U.S. until they have done it. The question isnt is he ready to lead? The question is is our country ready to follow?
DX: Well-said. What do you think of Obama utilizing Hip Hop culture as a means of political support?
Donte: Political Hip Hop goes back to Run-DMCs 30 Days, [Grand Master] Flashs The Message, Public Enemys Fight the Power. These are the songs and some of the artists that actually inspired me to rap and inspire the spirit of MOOD.
DX: Lets touch upon Hip Hop and politics. There is a belief shared by many that Hip Hop has its roots in political activism, used as a tool to speak out against oppressive socio-political conditions, and it should be used today for the same purposes. On the other hand, there is also the belief that Hip Hop is a creative art form, and whether one raps about money, women or government, should not matter as long as creativity is involved. Thoughts?
Donte: Bullshit! Hip Hop is a form of expression and I cant tell anyone how to express themselves. But, I will say this: it needs to be carefully balanced because too much of either can be bad - not enough of either can be catastrophic.
DX: We often ask artists to comment on the current state of Hip Hop and where its heading. Id like to ask you to comment on the current state of Hip Hops fans, and where theyre heading.
Donte: Hip Hop is what it is. Its up to those who make it to determine where its headed. Not labels, radio stations or executives in $500 suits. Each artist has to contribute something to the game or they are just taking away from it. I give my heart, my mind, my body, my soul - what are you gonna contribute?
DX: Thats something we can all keep in mind. Anything youd like to add?
Donte: Thanks to all of our fans, supporters, and to those who keep Hip Hop alive. Mina, for being an intelligent and beautiful mind and to God for blessing me with the talent and skill to perform at the top of my field. Be on the look out for the Hall of Fame. Check out our new single/video Drugs, War and Crime, and get ready for my solo album Proof of Life. Come holla at your boy [click here].
Off to Boston and marching on to the spirit of healthy political opinion and debate, DX chops it up with Mr. Lif, who finds time to take a break from studio in order to introduce his new album, I Heard it Today, and explain its relevance to the current political environment. And one can count on Mr. Lif to stay creative and remain relevant as he uses his album to convey a message about the prevalent problems and issues the U.S. of A. is up against just in time for elections. Best known for his membership in the group The Perceptionists (with Akrobatik and DJ Fakts One), Mr. Lif sheds light on his recent European tour, the peculiar support of Republicans and their policies, and of course, sexy Sarah Palin.
HipHopDX: You recently came back from your European tour; how was it?
Mr. Lif: It was a lot of fun. It was actually a more casual type of tour than Im used to doing. If I go someplace for 20, 25 days, Im used to having to do 17, 18 shows. But due to the fact that Im recording this project, my shows were a little bit more spread out and it gave me some time to be in the studio in Berlin and hang out with some of my friends I have a lot of friends in Berlin. It was actually very enjoyable. We traveled to Holland, Switzerland, several parts of Germany. We wrapped up the show in Estonia; it was my first time in Estonia.
DX: How do the fans in Europe differ from those in North America?
Mr. Lif: They just dont get to see you as often. So theres just an appreciation, especially for Hip Hop Camp which is a show we did in the Czech Republic. You get the sense that some of these kids have listened for a long time to the music, but never had a chance to actually come out and see the showmaybe if they caught a show before, theyre appreciative. Its not an everyday thing; its not even necessarily an every-year thing. I dont go to the same cities every time. I feel that the appreciation is very high, theyre very unashamed that they love Hip Hop and are very true school in that they love more of the golden era style of Hip Hop and its just good to see that.
DX: Whats up with The Perceptionists?
Mr. Lif: Both Akrobatik and I are focused on our solo careers, and thats the way it has to be right now. I think I called Ak about three-and-a-half months ago and said, Look Im ready to start writing a Perceptionists record, cause my attitude at the time was the more projects, the merrier. I can work on a Mr. Lif record right now if you will and also work on a Perceptionists record and choose what aura I want. Then once I got into the idea of doing my project, I got so lost in the process I cant express how much this record and this project has revitalized me in terms of reconnecting with my passion about my making music and just feeling a sense of purpose. Its not like Im just making songs to hear my own voice, or to flex a couple of styles so people would think Im one of the best. This is me trying to stay with current events and offer a view thats a little bit more liberal, or a view thats alternative to whats being offered in mainstream media. Just gives me an incredible sense of purpose its the last thing I think about when I close my eyes at night and first thing I think about when I wake up. And during the hours Im awake, most of them by far are spent in the studio while Im working on this material.
DX: This is a good time to introduce that new material.
Mr. Lif: The new album is called I Heard it Today [click to listen] and its a politicalbasically whats going on in the United States right now in such a unique moment in American history that I figured it would be a good moment to document it. We have a black man running for president; we have the energy crisis, housing crisis and of course the huge economic crises that has not only hit us but is affecting other markets around the world. So once a month I release a song that covers a political issue. And in September I released a song that was about the housing crisis. And for October, the song is called The Sun and the The Sun is a song of inspiration for all the people out there that are disenfranchised right now, and feeling cheated on. A lot of people lost their retirement funds, people are losing their homes its tough for people to survive in America right now.
DX: Many of these subjects covered have been prevalent in the U.S. for at least the past couple of years. Why do you think they havent been brought to attention before this complete economic and political crash?
Mr. Lif: I think because people were getting paid. A lot of the bigthey had to keep silent so they can finish making their billions or multi-millions, and no one wanted to say anything until shit absolutely hit the fan. And I also think the fact that this election coming up has created an arena for the issues being discussed as the American people are gonna want to know what each of these candidates is gonna do about the problems that affect them on daily basis. When the people that are truly in power of the nation are making money hand over fist, I think theyre gonna keep pretty quiet about that until they have to talk about it. [Laughing]
DX: Why are the republicans continuing to receive significant support after such detrimental policies, fiscal, foreign and domestic?
Mr. Lif: The cold and harsh reality  the center of this nation seems to be extremely conservative. And when you get into the so-called Bible belt, I think you just have people its a broad sweeping generalization here but I think the majority of the people just like the good-old America. If were involved in the war, lets win the war.
DX: I understand the conservatism. But when the policies are not beneficial to individuals, when they are bad economic and domestic policies, why does support continue for the Republicans?
Mr. Lif: It baffles me. Maybe people just arent that informed or maybe people see that the black man is on the opposite side of the building and theyre just like Hell no. I think thats a lot of whats going on, the Republicans are just like This black dude? A lot of people in the heartland are just like, Yo man, we have no chance in hell that this black man is gonna run this country. The progressives are not necessarily the majority in America.
DX: With the rising gas prices, the lay-offs and with the collapse of the stock market, do you think that people are still looking at Obamas skin color?
Mr. Lif: Im not trying to throw a big importance on race as it seemed like I was; I think thats just one aspect of whats going on. No matter what, theres a contingent of people that are going to look at his skin color, whether you want to believe that or not. Its tough for me - I dont know what people think. I literally cannot even come up with anything to explain really why someone could have lived through the last eight years in America where we had two planes knock down the towers, 2,000 people die in New York, where we have the energy crisis and to top it all off, the drop of the economy. I cant even believe that 20% of the people in this country will even consider McCain, let alone vote for him but thats what were up against. Were also up against an extremely skewed electronic voting system that people have figured out how to exploit the flaws of. Maybe we shouldnt be focusing so much on these candidates right about now; we should put maybe an equal amount of attention on people who are counting the votes.
DX: A pensive point. Why do you think theres such a pre-occupation with Sarah Palin? Shes no less educated or experienced than George Bush was so why is this much focus on her?
Mr. Lif: First of all, I just think it offensive that the McCain camp presented her. Now theyre basically just not letting her speak to the public unless its in like an extremely controlled environment where they have to program her on everything she has to say because shes failed so intensely - like in the interviews with Katie Couric. Every time shes asked a question that shes not scripted and ready for, shes just a complete buffoon. And Republicans, I guess just thought, "Hey Hillary Clinton was popular with the Democrats, so lets just get a woman out there, and lets just disenfranchise female voters, but really, theyve just made a mockery about the whole system. The question about Palin is Is she intelligent? and Does she even know politics? And when those are the questions youre asking about the potential Vice President, whos gonna be vice president for a guy thats 72 years old and has had four cancer surgeries it shouldnt be a factor. I just dont see why shes not completely disregarded.
DX: Where is responsibility within the American population?
Mr. Lif: First of all, find a common ground upon which we can join together. Heres the problem: they still have us divided, whether its Democrats or Republicans. Were divided into - and Im guilty of feeding into this too - progressive people on the coast and the people in the heartland. The American people need to figure something out that is going to hit the wealthy in the pocket because thats all theyre going to understand. Theyve found several ways to see our cash flow they tax us on every dollar we make, on every cent we make; they create conditions in which they can gain an ordinate wealth and we can go broke and bankrupt and our lives can be ruined. I just think that theres gotta be some way the American people can brand together and be like, Look, were not gonna be a part of this anymore. And I dont know what that is. Sometimes I think maybe not give as much value to the things that we care so much about now, our possessions and that paper
There has to be a point where we have to put our foot down. The protests of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the protest of this bill theyve already run us over. They snuck a president into office and kept him there for 8 years
DX: You mentioned capitalism rap before. Elaborate?
Mr. Lif: Its not any level of a breakthrough. Hip Hop was a form of music created by people in low-income areas. It was a means of their own escapism, creativity; as a means for them to try to hopefully earn some recognition and some money so they can improve their own living conditions. Once it became clear to corporate America - or just corporations around the globe - that Hip Hop was an extremely marketable commodity, what happened at that point was the corporate vision and the dumbing down of the music. And I think that you cant talk about this issue without recognizing the fact that there is an all-out assault, especially in this country, on the young black male. There are tons of young black men in prison. In my opinion, the view of people worldwide of us continues to suffer. The African-American has definitely been seen in a very negative light at least in my opinion, what Ive gathered through the media, my own experience, what I experienced first-hand
Hip Hop is a corporate vision that shifted from an instrument from which the black community told their youth stay in school, become educated. This is where the truth lies, in the knowledge that you hold and what youre able to do with that knowledge. And now, the majority of what you see is cats driving big flashy cars, with a lot of women dancing around them and theyre throwing money at the camera. And ultimately, it killed the movement in the black community toward intelligence, respect, pride. And it moved toward Man, get some money, period. And its okay to sell crack; in fact, itll help your rap career if you sold crack or shot some black people. Thats what the music has disintegrated to. You have a better chance of having a good rap career if you have good street cred: if you sold poison to your own people and its on your records that you have threatened to kill your own people; and of course, using the n word incisively, helps.