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Preview: Mr. Lif performs with numerous special guests. Doors open at 9:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, at the Blue Heron. Advance tickets are $10, available at Ear Candy Music; admittance is $12 at the door.

Despite the efforts of a few well-intentioned emcees who've bravely taken the stage over the past few years, Missoula hasn't exactly matured as a breeding ground for hip-hop musicians. But judging from the din of thumping subwoofers competing for the award of "Most Likely To Induce A Spontaneous and Unexpected Bowel Movement" every Friday night on Higgins Avenue, it seems evident that western Montana's adolescent cowpoke set is down with the vibe of today's most quintessentially urban, African-American musical scene.

The local connection isn't entirely clear. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, having traded in their horses for jacked-up pickups, today's young Montanans need something else to jostle their innards as they promenade up and down the streets in search of love and beer. Or, maybe it's the fact that - with Ted Nugent quagged in the mire of early-'80s hair-metal - hip-hop music is the only commercially successful music of today that speaks openly about guns.

Anywhichway, this Friday's show at the Blue Heron promises a dose of some of the best hip-hop to come through this town since, well, ever. The man on the mic is Mr. Lif, a Boston rapper whose socially conscious rhymes are at once sophisticated, thoughtful, intimate, and, uh, like, massively dope, yo.

Lif comes to Missoula riding some serious buzz, from rave reviews in URB Magazine and the Boston Globe, to gigs alongside big-names such as Eminem, The Roots, Burning Spear, even Š Zap Mama? Clearly, this guy has some pull.

Listening to his recent full-length CD, "I, Phantom," it's easy to hear why Lif has so many friends. This is one ambitious concept album. Over the course of the disc's 14 tracks, Lif rips a story about a down-on-his-luck guy who dreams one night of accidentally shooting someone in a holdup, and wakes the next day resolved to change his life. But to do so he's got some serious hurdles to jump, as recited in tunes such as "Live from the Plantation":

"Now I'm off to slave quarters / With a whole bunch of other people's sons and daughters / Working so they can be mothers and fathers / Laboring real hard, hoping the boss offers / More petty cash to his bums and paupers / Kissing his ass cuz they hoping they prosper / Here's the math: / You work a third a' your day away / The government takes a third a' your check, correct / You go home and drink cuz you don't get / An ounce of respect, and your spirit is wrecked."

Come to think of it, that's a theme that any son-of-a-cowboy convenience store clerk can identify with - not to mention the rest of Missoula's underemployed 20-something masses, paying off college loans with coffeehouse wages.

Lif's album culminates in a multi-perspective, multi-song diatribe about modern society that's as hard-hitting as a Michael Moore flick, and a heckuva lot easier to dance to. Lif may not feature much in the way of harmonic complexity in his music - the rhymes are generally set to repetitive backbeats peppered with quirky noise samples and the occasional ripped-off guitar lick - but it's the words that count, and he's one guy who's worth paying attention to.

Lif will appear with a massive mob of miscellaneous MCs, including members of Portland's Oldominion hip-hop collective, and members of Denver's Gone, making this into some kind of midway mountain meeting of transnational, multicultural, socially conscious rhymeslingers. It's a rare treat for Missoula, and definitely worth checking out. Even if you're not a cowboy.

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