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For a while, it seemed like Mr. Lif might never release an actual album. In June, the Boston MC issued Emergency Rations (Definitive Jux), his third EP in as many years. Weighed down by a clunky conceit--Lif, it is suggested, has been detained by the government for his controversial lyrics--the EP's criticisms of U.S. government activities since September 11 sounded like the work of a guy who stayed awake till dawn browsing conspiracy theory Web sites. So it's a gratifying surprise that the political material on his first full-length, I Phantom (Definitive Jux), sounds less like paranoia than clear-eyed observation. "Live From the Plantation" sharply articulates the demeaning politics of work: "My boss walks by / He's looking just like an asshole / Smiling 'cause he jerks niggas for minimum cash flow... / We all are being murdered by a similar process / Whether you work at the candy store or slave at the office." Lif even finds time to clown about nightclubbing's sillier aspects on "Status": "My destination was the back door / Not because the bouncer told me not to come back / I'm just sneaking in the back door 'cause I got it like that." Lif's labelmate Rjd2 has got it like that too. On Deadringer, the Ohio-based hip-hop producer comes off as a cross between Barry Adamson (cinematic flavoring, cheese for its own sake) and DJ Shadow (heavy, fucked-with beats, moody samples); in fact, "Chicken-Bone Circuit" could be a tribute to Shadow's classic "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt." Though Deadringer sags whenever an MC steps in (three of the album's songs feature nondescript rapping), Rjd2's use of old blues vocal samples on "Salud" trash anything on Moby's new 18. El-P, DJ Fakts One, and Cage & Copywrite also perform. Tuesday, September 24, 6:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.

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