The Perceptionists (featuring Mr. Lif + Akrobatik)
Comprising rappers Akrobatik (born Jared Bridgeman) and Mr. Lif (Jeffrey Haynes) and initially including DJ Fakts One(Jason Goler), the Perceptionists are to the Boston, Massachusetts hip-hop scene as the Justice League of America are to superheroes: the best of the best marshaling their powers for the collective good. The fiercely political Mr. Lif, whose 2002 album, Emergency Rations, was one of the first hip-hop records to overtly question the abuse of civil liberties in post-9/11 America, meshes well with Akrobatik's equally intelligent, socially conscious vibe (as seen on his 2003 solo debut, Balance), and Fakts One's imaginative beats add sonic depth to the whole. Friends since their early days on the local scene, the trio first started working together on Fakts One's college radio show in the late '90s, formally adopting the name the Perceptionists in 2000. A 2004 mixtape called The Razor was the trio's underground bow, before their official debut, Black Dialogue, was released by Definitive Jux in early 2005. Featuring the singles "Memorial Day" and "What Have We Got to Lose?" (which imaginatively sampled Joy Division's "She's Lost Control"), Black Dialogue also featured guest spots by Guru and Digital Underground's Shock-G. After the album's release, the group members went their separate ways. In 2017, Akrobatikand Mr. Lif put aside their differences and revived the Perceptionists. Their reunion album, Resolution, was released by Mello Music Group and the group is now on tour in support of the album.
THE ALBUM: RESOLUTION
Released on Mello Music Group, Resolution is one of those timeless records. The first full-length from Mr. Lif & Akrobatik (The Perceptionists) in a dozen years reflects the struggles and near-death sagas that struck Mr. Lif and Akrobatik. During that span, Lif miraculously survived his tour bus plummeting over a cliff and bursting into flames. Akrobatik weathered a sudden aortic rupture and emergency open-heart surgery. The impact of those experiences forced the former Def Jux duo to contemplate fate, luck, and their own place within a world spinning out of control.
But their ability to survive has allowed them to thrive. They’ve harnessed a radiant hard-won optimism that refuses to flinch from the evils of existence. From the album’s first track, “Early Mourning,” Akrobatik asserts that courage comes from within, but reflects on the millions of young black men sent to premature graves. He considers whether gang affiliation is inherent in their souls, or more likely, whether things would be different if these neighborhoods were well lit and effectively policed.
If turmoil and inequity currently wrack the globe at record levels, Lif’s verses seem more prophetic than ever. His verses offer searing indictments of corporate and political corruption: corporations oppressing local farms, governmental duplicity in dealing with big pharmaceutical companies, and the crooked brutality of cops who get away with shooting unarmed black men.
On “Hose Down,” the pair brilliantly intersperse news reports from the MLK-led Birmingham protests of 1963 with the internecine problems of the present—where a traffic stop can still lead to a funeral. It’s as poignant of a polemic as you’ll find, but blended with a danceable Caribbean lilt.
With the Perceptionists, the personal is political and vice-versa. Akrobatik rhymes about his “desire to breathe in the sun before my skin dries out” but still refuses to be “the coward in a pretend hide out.” On “Lemme Find Out,” they kick ingeniously sinister dystopian horror raps about our grotesque addiction to technology. There are love songs over beats that sound like they could’ve been on Madvillainy, stories of cypher demolitions of would-be challengers, and dirty ass rhymes over dirty ass drums—as The Perceptionists sagely insist, that’s all the world really wants.
It’s music from deep in the trenches, songs that confront the blitzkrieg of bad news but offer light at the end of the bombardment. If you listen closely, you can intuit a profound story of friendship and camaraderie between Lif and Akrobatik—lifelong friends trading bars with the chemistry of Tip and Phife, Andre and Big Boi, Erick and Parrish. They’re mortal men who made mistakes, gained experience, and obtained wisdom. This is Resolution.