It’s all in the name: The Perceptionists write about what they observe. Though the Boston-based rap duo of Akrobatik and Mr. Lif is watching the country’s ongoing social and political turmoil along with everyone else, Akrobatik—birth name Jared Bridgeman—hesitates to say that politically enlightened and socially conscious hip-hop artists in the tradition of Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest can help guide the way forward. That depends on who’s listening.
“The thing about enlightened rap albums is that they’re mostly heard by enlightened people,” he says. “I don’t know how that works—am I further enlightening people who listen to the record, or am I bringing things to people’s attention they weren’t thinking about? It’s hard to say what the world needs. I just have no choice but to give what I can.”
Bridgeman acknowledges that there’s a lot of mindless rap out there—intellectually empty music that he views as a microcosm of where the U.S. is at right now. “We are a very short-attention-span, 24-hour-news-cycle, toilet-humor and hyper-sexualization type of society,” he says. “It’s for better or for worse. I’m not sitting here and saying all of those things are horrible and we need more people like me out there, that everyone needs to rap like KRS-One. I’m just not going to change based on anything like that.”
Ahead of The Perceptionists’ set at Live Wire on Saturday, Bridgeman discussed the duo’s long history as fixtures in the Boston scene. Together, they’ve released two albums, 2005’s Black Dialogue and last year’s Resolution. Outside of making music with The Perceptionists and as a solo artist, Bridgeman teaches a class on hip-hop culture and history at the University of Massachusetts and considers himself an ever-learning student of the art form.
“It’s been a part of my life for my whole life,” he says. “It’s taken me all over the world, and I’ve met many of the people who inspired me to do what I do. It’s been a great experience the whole way through.”
Despite the 12-year gap between albums, Akrobatik never stopped working with Mr. Lif; they’ve both featured on each other’s solo work. But it took a couple of wake-up calls to get them back together in the studio to create Resolution. Bridgeman suffered a major heart attack in 2011, which granted him a sharper perspective on the fragility of life and urgency of art.
“You can go an undefined amount of time with everything seeming fine, and then life can do a 180 in the blink of an eye,” he says. “There are people out there who got shot in their 70s or died in a car crash before they turned 10. So, it’s definitely of great importance to take things by the horns.”
On top of his own near-death experience, the 2016 death of Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest hit home for Bridgeman. There wasn’t much time to waste. “To see a member of one of the greatest hip-hop duos be gone, it was just crazy,” he says. “It was like, ‘Let’s do this now that we’re here. We’re still young. Let’s rock it.’’”
Fans won’t have to wait another decade-plus for an album by The Perceptionists. They’ve already started recording the follow-up to Resolution, which Akrobatik says will play like a party record but contain meaningful messaging.
“We’ve got the party records too, but even when you’re partying, you don’t want to be completely unconscious of what’s going on around you,” he says. “That’s kind of what hip hop is about—being conscious. The hop is the movement, but the hip is the knowledge. Without the hip, you’re just bouncing around for no reason.”
THE PERCEPTIONISTS Boston-based hip-hop group featuring emcees Mr. Lif and Akrobatik. See story on p. 14.
DOPE KNIFE Rapper and producer from Savannah.