Mr. Lif often seems obscured by Defnitive Jux Records. Although his EP, “Enters the Colossus,” was the first extended release on hip-hop’s next big label back in 2000, it was quickly outshadowed by a monumental release by Cannibal Ox. While Jukies continued dropping science and verbal intracacies, Lif’s next album, “Emergency Rations,” seemed somewhat too simple. With “I Phantom,” Lif drops his first album that actually feels at home. Lif takes his simple style and his traditional producers and somehow comes out with a huge, cohesive, emotional and extremely relevant piece of hip-hop beauty.
In 14 tracks (3 skits), Lif spits his way through several years in the life. Somehow he touches upon everything from the death of hip-hop (“Return of the B-Boy”), teenage suicide (“The Now”), Divorce (“Success”), increased American arms (“Earthcrusher”) and the end of the world (“Post Mortem”), and that lists is not complete. For more cerebral emcees, a task this large would be lost among line after line of syllable practice. Lif’s straightforward flow allows him to narrate in detail without losing the listener. Thus a track like “Success,” in which Lif climbs the entire corporate ladder, meets the girl of his dreams, has a child and then loses it all, comes across clearly.
The production, handled by El-P, Fakts One, Insight and Edan, is on point throughout and all show versatility behind the boards. Insight’s “Earthcrusher” has a gritty bounce that could have been El-P, while El-P’s “The Now” sounds strangely normal. As a “hip-hop album,” “I Phantom” is sick. The beats slam and the rhymes are off the wall. But this review cannot do justice to the emotion Lif and the various producers conjure at the more gripping parts. Any talented emcee can flow on beat, but it takes a whole other kind of talent to tell a story like Lif: one listen to “Success” or “Post Mortem” will convince.