I Phantom

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I Phantom
I Phantom.jpg
Studio album by Mr. Lif
Released September 17, 2002
Studio Boston Butta Beats in Boston; Def Jux Studios, Steel Acres, and The Danger Room in New York
Genre Hip hop
Length 47:44
Label Definitive Jux
Producer El-P, Insight, DJ Fakts One, NASA, Edan
Mr. Lif chronology
Emergency Rations
I Phantom
Mo' Mega

I Phantom is the debut studio album by American rapper Mr. Lif. It was produced mostly by alternative hip hop artist El-P, among others, at Boston Butta Beats in Boston and the New York City-based Steel Acres, The Danger Room, and Def Jux Studios. Mr. Lif composed I Phantom as a concept album about the working life of an African American who is pressured into pursuing the dubious rewards of the American dream.[1]

The album was released on September 16, 2002, by Definitive Jux. A widespread critical success, it was acclaimed for El-P's sparse hip hop production and Lif's incisive, everyman lyrics.

Music and lyrics[edit]

To see conscious rap disappear to the point where people are almost shocked that I could make such a record is disappointing. How did we get lulled to sleep like this?

— Mr. Lif, Jockey Slut[2]

I Phantom is a concept album described as "an exploration of the dynamics of everyday life, and the pursuit of our dreams, in a rapidly decaying society." The narrative begins with death ("A Glimpse At The Struggle") and resurrection ("Return Of The B-Boy") and ends with nuclear holocaust ("Earthcrusher," "Post-Mortem"). The liner notes provide instructions on how to follow the story.[3] Mr. Lif recorded the album at Boston Butta Beats in Boston and the New York City studios Steel Acres, The Danger Room, and Def Jux Studios,[3] in the same sessions that produced his debut extended play Emergency Rations (2002).[2] The album features beats made by alternative hip hop producers such as Edan, DJ Fakts One, and El-P, as well as guest raps performed by Aesop Rock, Jean Grae, and Akrobatik.[2]

I Phantom expands on the everyman persona that he debuted on Emergency Rations, of which he said in an interview for the Chicago Tribune: "We're wasting time if we're not talking about issues that affect us and the planet in our music. I grew up in an era when Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy and Eric B. and Rakim were dropping serious science on their records. They didn't ignore what was going on around them at the time, and neither should we. We're talking with each other through this music."[4] While his debut EP was an intensely political diatribe on U.S. foreign policy and the Bush administration, I Phantom focuses more on working class black America.[5]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[6]
Blender 4/5 stars[7]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[2]
NME 7/10[8]
Pitchfork 8.3/10[9]
Rolling Stone 3/5 stars[10]
Stylus Magazine B+[11]
Tiny Mix Tapes 4.5/5[12]
Uncut 4/5 stars[13]
The Village Voice A[14]

I Phantom was released by Definitive Jux on September 16, 2002, in the United Kingdom and on September 17 in the United States,[15] where Mr. Lif had begun a national tour on September 14 to promote the record.[16]

I Phantom received widespread acclaim from critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 81, based on 12 reviews.[17] Moira McCormick of the Chicago Tribune called it "a heady, lyrically dazzling, unsparing" hip hop concept album told "with humor, heart and a sorcerer's way with words",[1] while Blender deemed the record's funk-influenced beats "innovative" and Lif's rhymes "engaging ... [He] brilliantly avoids the pitfalls of vacuous bling-drones and 'real hip-hop' whiners alike."[7] In The A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin called it "really audacious and ambitious", writing that it mixes El-P's "icy B-boy futurism with Lif's nasal-everyman flow, to powerful effect."[18] Village Voice critic Robert Christgau said I Phantom showed an ambitious concept, specific insight into life working and raising a family, and a critique comparable to Boots Riley. He said the "musically pleasurable" album "fleshes out its cohesive narrative and cogent ideas with beats that respect the spare antipop ethos without abjuring such wayward rhythm elements as femme chorus, bass-drum-whoop jam, and $20 synth loop".[14]

For the annual Pazz & Jop critics poll, Christgau voted I Phantom as the 15th best album of 2002.[19] Kludge ranked it at number seven on the magazine's list of the year's 100 best records.[20]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Producer Length
1. "Bad Card" NASA 2:09
2. "A Glimpse at the Struggle" El-P 3:28
3. "Return of the B-Boy" El-P 7:35
4. "Live From the Plantation" Edan 3:58
5. "New Man Theme" DJ Fakts One 3:23
6. "Handouts" Insight 0:40
7. "Status" (featuring Insight) Insight 4:00
8. "Success" (featuring Aesop Rock) El-P 4:16
9. "Daddy Dearest" El-P 0:57
10. "The Now" El-P 3:48
11. "Friends and Neighbors" DJ Fakts One 2:34
12. "Iron Helix" (featuring Insight) Insight 2:41
13. "Earthcrusher" Insight 3:46
14. "Post Mortem" (featuring El-P, Jean Grae and Akrobatik) El-P 4:01


Credits adapted from the album's liner notes.[3]

  • Aesop Rock – vocals
  • Akrobatik – vocals
  • Keith Atkins – engineer, mixing
  • Edan – producer
  • El-P – engineer, executive producer, mixing, producer, vocals
  • Fakts One – mixing, producer, vocals
  • Ray Boy Fernandes – engineer, mixing, vocals
  • Jean Grae – vocals
  • Insight – featured artist, producer
  • Dan Ezra Lang – art direction, design
  • Emily Lazar – mastering
  • Mr. Lif – primary artist
  • Nasa – engineer, mixing, producer, vocals
  • Amaechi Uzoigwe – vocals
  • Vast Aire – vocals


Chart (2002)[21] Peak
U.S. Top Heatseekers Albums 20
U.S. Top Independent Albums 16
U.S. Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums 80

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b McCormick, Moira (November 26, 2002). "Mr. Lif I Phantom". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Larkin, Colin (2006). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 50. ISBN 0195313739. 
  3. ^ a b c I Phantom (CD liner notes). Mr. Lif. Definitive Jux. 2002. DJX37. 
  4. ^ Kot, Greg (April 28, 2002). "The hip-hop underground mixes it up". Chicago Tribune. Arts & Entertainment, pp. 1–2. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  5. ^ Kois, Dan (September 23, 2002). "Music preview: Mr. Lif". Salon.com. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  6. ^ Kincaid, Nic. "I Phantom - Mr. Lif : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "Review: I Phantom". Blender (10): 124. October 2002. 
  8. ^ "Review: I Phantom". NME. London: 40. September 14, 2002. 
  9. ^ Chennault, Sam (September 29, 2002). "Mr. Lif: I Phantom". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Recordings: Mr. Lif, I Phantom, 3 Stars". Rolling Stone. New York (908). October 31, 2002. Archived from the original on March 30, 2003. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  11. ^ Bloch, Sam (September 1, 2003). "Mr. Lif - I Phantom - Review". Stylus Magazine. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  12. ^ Wolfman. "Mr. Lif - I Phantom". Tiny Mix Tapes. Archived from the original on March 5, 2013. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Review: I Phantom". Uncut. London: 110. October 2002. 
  14. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (February 11, 2003). "Consumer Guide: The Prelude". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  15. ^ Cibula, Matt (September 17, 2002). "Mr. Lif: I Phantom". PopMatters. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  16. ^ Umlauf, Simon (September 16, 2002). "Mr. Lif: The Hip Hop Rebel". CNN Headline News. CNN. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  17. ^ "I Phantom Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  18. ^ Rabin, Nathan (October 18, 2002). "Mr. Lif: I Phantom". The A.V. Club. Chicago. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Pazz & Jop 2002: Dean's List". The Village Voice. New York. February 18, 2003. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  20. ^ "The Best of 2002". Kludge. Archived from the original on July 22, 2004. Retrieved November 25, 2015. 
  21. ^ "I Phantom - Mr. Lif : Awards". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]