Mr. Lif, I Phantom (2002)
I Phantom is a conceptual satire starring an everyman (or “phantom”) caught up in events beyond his control. Opening with a series of nightmares that slowly dissolve into a short stint as an office worker on “Live at the Plantation,” an abortive marriage, and other misadventures, Lif vividly paints a picture of a young man’s struggle to evolve into a conscious, politically aware being. Each track is a self-contained experience reflecting the protagonist’s unique perspective: “Friends and Neighbors” is a fanciful piece of gossip about a homicide in his neighborhood, while “Return of the B-Boy” finds him imagining himself saving hip-hop. Lif’s tight narrative focus on the protagonist’s plights are made palpable by his strengths as an MC. Touting a monotone voice reminiscent of Guru from Gang Starr, Lif peppers his verses with observations like “The purpose of our life is just to serve the economy/They misinform our minds to paint a picture of harmony.” Girding Lif are guest producers like Insight, who drops the humorous and organ-inflected “Status”; Edan, who shifts samples midway through “Live from the Plantation” from an aggrieved guitar riff to a triumphant horn chorus as the protagonist happily quits his job; El-P (“Post Mortem”) and Fakts One. Thanks to Lif’s exceptional storytelling abilities, I Phantom gathers a momentum that’s only quieted by “Post Mortem” and the protagonist’s “guilt for every single I’ve ever bought and sold,” imparting a well-told morality tale in the process. Definitive Jux.