Def Juxie Mr. Lif is the b-boy of the future in many fan's eyes. He posses that uncanny ability to portray Hip-Hop in it's finest form. He has done this throughout the past couple of years with his two previous EP's "Mr. Lif Enters The Colasus" & "Emergency Rations", where Lif has gotten the rep as one of the finest emcees in the underground scene. He mixes a brand of socially conscious lyricism, with the stark reality of the world we are living in today. Lif has never been one to sway away from controversy and has always dappled in the political/conscious limelight as an emcee. However, when it comes down to it Lif can still spit just as good as the rest of them, the only difference is Lif posses a lot more into his game than lyricism. Proof of this comes with Lif's long awaited full-length debut "I Phantom".
Lif has always been one of the finest in the game, but on "I Phantom" he proves that conceptually he is also one of the best. "I Phantom" acts as a concept album, a hip hop opera like those that have come before him Prince Paul, Sticky Fingaz & Capital D. The story however is different than those of the past. At times it's very hard to follow which will undoubtedly have the average fan confused, but deep down there is a great plot and story unfolding right before your eyes, with only a few bumps in the road.
The album stars out with "Bad Card", where Lif asks Vast Aire of Cannibal Ox for a gun. Upon first listen one would think we are ready for a usual Hip-Hop ride throughout "I Phantom". However, the story changes and curves making "I Phantom" stay fresh and innovative. After Lif acquires the gun he is eventually shot and killed on "A Glimpse At The Struggle", only to be resurrected as the b-boy of the future on the El-p produced "Return Of The B-Boy". As Lif says himself, "he is resurrect by music (a kick, drum, a snare, and a hi-hat) and goes on a mission to save hip hop culture. His quest leads him to a battle against himself in which he must conquer his own demons". While strange, it's beautifully done, as it's one of the finer tracks on the album. EL-P puts forth one of his better production efforts on the album, giving Lif a good backdrop to work off of.
While "I Phantom" at this point is following well, its "Live From The Plantation" where some fans might get lost. It is there were we find out that it was all a dream for Lif and he is awakened by his alarm clock only to be called back to reality of his day job. It is here on "Live From The Plantation" and "New Man Theme" where we see Lif analyze his job and the work life, eventually seeing him quit his job all together. At this point the album is still flowing well, however the next couple track is where the story really gets off track and "I Phantom" tends to loose steam. "Status" is a nice Insight produced track, where Lif goes off to the club to get this groove on, only to be thrown out the club because he had no money and had to sneak in. The track is quite amusing as Lif runs through what he thinks will be a good night of performing the running man, cabbage patch and other played out dances only to get thrown out of the club before he is able to do anything.
While "I Phantom" is nicely put together, the story line does tend to get quite complicated and confusing if you are not paying attention, especially throughout tracks such as "Daddy Dearest", "The Now", "Friends and Neighbors" and "Iron Helix". It is right after Lif attempts to get a new job on the horrible "Success" featuring Aesop Rock that these tracks take over and drag down the story. One minute Lif is fired form his job, then dancing in the club, then back to finding a new job, then the story goes into "Daddy Dearest" which talks about a father and son relationship. "The Now" continues this story into "Friends And Neighbors" while you are left wondering what just happened? You think the story is going one way when all the sudden it switches and while many will see this as the beauty in the album, for the average fan it will leave them dazed and confused.
Thankfully the album does pick up at the end and offers some of its best experiences. To skip a bunch of complicated story lines, the final two tracks see the destruction of human civilization as we know it. While it's a big step from the beginning of the album, just roll with the story line if you have to, as both "Earthcrusher" and "Post Mortem" are superb. "Earthcrusher" sees a nuclear holocaust while "Post Mortem" featuring EL-P, Jean Grea & Akrobatik is the perspective of each emcees reaction to the nuclear holocaust. Each emcee gives their unique perspective to the track, making it one of the better featured on "I Phantom".
"I Phantom" is definitely one of the best concept albums to be released; however its complicated and shaky story line may keep it from being the best. We should have known not to expect the norm from Mr. Lif, we just wish the middle of the album would have tied everything together better so the listener could follow along. The only other complaint is the amount of EL-P produced tracks which goes overboard at times. Insight and Fakts One are the usual handlers of Lif's production, however EL-P puts forth the biggest effort on "I Phantom". At times the combination is successful, but for the most part El-p's production doesn't quite fit the Lif style as well as Fakts and Insight do. Other than that "I Phantom" is a great album that will offer more than your average type of Hip-Hop these days. Lif is definitely on top of his game and in the future he will continue to be a dominant figure in the underground scene.