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You might think that Mr. Lif would be causing rhetorical shitstorms from coast to coast, especially with George W. back for four more years. But instead of dropping a solo follow-up to 2002’s righteously excellent I Phantom, indie hiphop’s protester in chief has gotten caught up in a group thing—which actually makes even more sense. Humility has always been part of Lif’s game; he sees himself as more of an intellectual button-pusher than a look-at-me lyrical terrorist. On Black Dialogue, the Boston-based MC’s debut with the Perceptionists, fellow rapper Akrobatik gets equal airtime for his bulldog rhymes about the social disintegration of the ’hood, and Lif keeps his bong-hit apocalyptica in check. The disc’s core pieces are the 2004 anti-war single “Memorial Day” (“Would Condoleezza Rice cover grenades in a foxhole?/I’m startin’ to believe what I was told is not so,” raps Akrobatik) and the title track, on which Lif answers a call from a spectral Malcolm X: “I said, these niggas all want homes in the Hamptons/It’s a minstrel show, so they do what white man asked them/Throwin’ money at the screen that other brothers ain’t catchin’/Yes, hell has frozen over, rest in peace, thanks for askin’.” Neither song is shocking or wildly inventive—DJ Fakts One’s grooves tend to be built on meat-and-potatoes breakbeats and synth hooks—but the sentiments are delivered with palpable conviction. Lif’s best stretch, however, comes during the unexpectedly tender “Love Letters,” on which he manages to deliver such lines as “Your energy traveled through my arm, causing sensory alarm/Life I knew before I met you was gone” without sounding corny. He rhymes the whole thing at cruising speed, in an approach that also works well on “Career Finders.” The sarcastic, soul-flavored track might be Black Dialogue’s strongest overall, and it has an instant-classic cameo to boot: Digital Underground’s Shock G joins in sizing up a succession of thugs who only have street skills on their résumé. “So, this is what we got,” he raps. “You’re good a pointing out who’s a bitch and who’s not/You ain’t scared, down to shoot up the spot/Have you thought about the military or a cop?” If Lif and Akrobatik weren’t able to keep pace, this singsongy blast of wit would be nothing but a reminder of a golden era. As it is, it makes the Perceptionists sound ready for anything—perhaps even a little shitstorming. —Joe Warminsky