Album Reviews

L’Orange & Mr. Lif – “The Life & Death of Scenery” (Album Review)

graphic design by Sarah Mattmiller, art by Douglas Hale

Never doubt the wholesome influence and might of Mello Music Group in these days and times because though their record isn’t perfect, they keep coming back with awe-inspiring hip-hop gems that will last forever, as is the case with their latest release, The Life & Death of Scenery (Oct 14), a collaboration between the reputably great, twenty-some years strong-in-the-game emcee Mr. Lif and crate-honoring/sample-resurrecting producer L’Orange, featuring a midsize group of impeccable guests from their own picking. The album is a whole lot more than just a lyrically heavy conscious rap LP. It is an allegorical tale of an artless and heartless dystopian future, one where books, music and liberating opportunities are things of the past but from which the brilliant souls and minds of people rise up to flourish again and overthrow the totalitarian state bent on controlling them. It is equally social commentary and prophecy, driven by human strength, good intentions and a proper measure of humor. Mr. Lif and L’Orange are in top form delivering their best work yet in this lessons-packed hip-hop story.

To help narrate the storyline are four skits announced by the new radio channel created to keep the clones of the dark world in line and in order. In a quotidian segment coined “The Perfect World Radio Hour,” a faceless anchor disseminates drab news of the day with monotonous upcoming events. The first one we hear starts on day 279 (post-purge) and already the situation is very much bleak for its subjects. Mr. Lif, in “A World Without Music,” describes the effects of living under the crushing regime, where weakened thought and a deterioration of human nature and health plague all. With resilient Perceptionist emcee Akrobatik, “The Scribe” arrives with confidence to assist in deconstructing this brutal state (mind DJ Qbert’s professional handy work on L’Orange’s banging beat). Using weak rationale, our radio host tries hopelessly to deny the scribe’s greatness but he simply cannot. Lif with Chester Watson discuss the baits that lure the unknowing in “Antique Gold,” and all the way to “The Gentle End” they “keep[…] only beauty in […their] eyesight.”

The picture moves to Akrobatik again, Gonjasufi and Insight, who are there to help Lif make their fellow men and women aware of the “Strange Technology” and the “Five Lies about the World Outside” that have slyly become so ubiquitous in their lives and permeated into their existence so slickly that they’ve drawn next to no unwanted attention to them. On day 421 during the Radio Hour, the sounds of the revolt can’t help but be heard simmering and bubbling up in the background of Mr. Puppet-broadcaster, who is desperately trying to hold his program together. The voice of Mr. Lif, our hallowed truth-speaker, comes through replacing that of the now powerless “Perfect World” promoter to expose the king, sole controller of the globe, in “A Palace in the Sky” as his cold brick fortress disintegrates and vaporizes into the air leaving him “lost in the mirage of his reprieve.” End scene.

This is a happy ending. The ruthless ruler is dethroned, his institution disappears and the people no longer believe in the spiritless system force-fed to them since the banishment of quality entertainment. The Life & Death of Scenery is as much warning as it is guidance – where we might be headed (ignorant lifeless doom) and what it necessitates (unity and enlightenment). Such a loaded valuable account as this deserves more development and length as it is a bit loose and abbreviated, but it’s got progressive alternative boom-bap and picture-painting verses and it’s nevertheless a solid plot to teach that corrupt sources of power when exposed to the light (or when they become apparent to the people in the form of common knowledge) will inevitably dry up and decay.

4 out of 5 stars

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