Prefrontal cortex plays a central role in mnemonic control, with left inferior prefrontal cortex (LIPC) mediating control of semantic knowledge. One prominent theory posits that LIPC does not mediate semantic retrieval per se, but rather subserves the selection of task-relevant knowledge from amidst competing knowledge. The present event-related fMRI study provides evidence for an alternative hypothesis: LIPC guides controlled semantic retrieval irrespective of whether retrieval requires selection against competing representations. With selection demands held constant, LIPC activation increased with semantic retrieval demands and with the level of control required during retrieval. LIPC mediates a top-down bias signal that is recruited to the extent that the recovery of meaning demands controlled retrieval. Selection may reflect a specific instantiation of this mechanism.