Release date: September 17, 2002
Because doesn’t hip-hop need its very own 2001: A Space Odyssey, right?
Mr. Lif, the lyrically underrated Boston MC on El-P’s sadly now-defunct Def Jux label, got super ambitious with his 2002 record I Phantom, focusing its 14 cuts to “the exploration of the dynamics of everyday life, and the pursuit of our dreams, in a rapidly decaying society.”
A peppy Will Smith album, it’s not, but that’s fine for Mr. Lif, a cynical but intelligent rapper who wallows in dark realities better than most. I Phantom opens with death (via “A Glimpse at the Struggle”), transitions into resurrection (“Return of the B-Boy”) and not so happily concludes with armageddon (“Earthcrusher” into the frantic and bleak “Post Mortem”), giving the album a scope that’s all-encompassing and spans generations.
Much like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Give the I Phantom flick to a wish-list director like Nicolas Winding Refn and let him run wild. There’d be character-driven moments (taken from “New Man Theme”) and joyful highs (“Success”), but ultimately Refn would get to sucker-punch viewers in the movie’s final act, a three-headed wave of cinematic destruction that’d directly borrow visuals rapped by Mr. Lif in “Iron Helix,” “Earthcrusher,” and “Post Mortem.”