Welcome to “Don’t Look Down,” Mr. Lif’s first album in seven years, a chronicle of personal evolution, internal strength, and the ebbs and flows of life. It’s the most introspective and harrowingly personal work from the ex-Def Jux legend-a record borne from successes, failures, and hard-learned lessons.
The Boston prophet’s first new work for Mello Music Group directly addresses the difficulties of keeping your head up amidst duress. You hear and feel the intensity of the fight, the sense of falling into despair, the helplessness of drowning, and the power of being able to save yourself.
Over a 10-song cycle, Lif delivers poetic testament that avoids preachiness. These are agnostic sermons written to conceal and nurture him during a bleak period-cathartic confessionals that offered a conduit to bliss. The structure of “Don’t Look Down” mirrors this personal descent and rebirth, a hero’s journey worthy of Joseph Campbell.
It starts with “Pounds of Pressure” and “The Abyss,” adrenaline-pulsing sagas where the narrator clutches his pistol, soaked in sweat. Over bone-bristling drums and smears of disembodied vocal samples, Lif’s protagonist is engulfed in violence, pushed to the precipice, forced into a fight-or-flight scenario. This emotional rupture leads into the depression of the third track, “Everyday We Pray”-where the hero ruminates on personal storms and the patterns of his demise-praying for discipline and the strength to be honest.
By the song’s conclusion, optimism has started to seep back into his worldview. “Let Go” reflects that with its self-admonition to search deeper and think smarter, let the light shine, and unburden oneself from the pain of the past. “A Better Day” captures the zenith of this positivity, filtered through realism and clarity. It’s a call to arms to rebuke the cosmetic and prosthetic, to scale these walls and “beat this vile prison we call living.”
With “Whizdom,” “Mission Accomplished”, & “World Renown,” the central character creates his own world, barricading himself from the ills of society. He’s aided by a beat from Edan and verses from Akrobatik (Lif’s partner in The Perceptionists) and Del the Funky Homosapien. The final act hinges on “iLL,” where the vulnerabilities creep back to the surface, incubating a state of reflection, in which the protagonist ponders the ways of the world-wishing for something more, wondering if this is heaven or another self-created hell.
The concepts all come to a powerful resolution on the finale, the title track that hauntingly echoes this mantra of resilience. Over taut minor piano chords, Lif tries to make sense of it all before the final fall, weary with a head full of ideas, a spirit unbowed, offering one last reminder that our most severe stumbles often lead to our greatest successes.