(Definitive Jux, 2002)
I Phantom expands on the every-man persona that Lif debuted on his 2002 EP Emergency Rations.
In an interview for the Chicago Tribune, Lif said, "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."
While the Emergency Rations was a fierce political diatribe on U.S. foreign policy and the Bush administration, I Phantom focuses on working class black America.
I Phantom received universal acclaim from contemporary music critics. Ben Ratliff of The New York Times found it "far superior" than Lif's Emergency Rations, and Uncut called it "an album of flashing wit and giddy ambition."
Blender found the funk-influenced beats "innovative" and Lif's rhymes "engaging", and wrote that he "brilliantly avoids the pitfalls of vacuous bling-drones and 'real hip-hop' whiners alike."
Nathan Rabin, writing in The A.V. Club, found it "really audacious and ambitious" and said that it mixes producer El-P's "icy B-boy futurism with Lif's nasal-everyman flow, to powerful effect."
NME described it as "the sound of hip-hop fishing for cents in the gutter" and "vengeance made eloquent".
Rolling Stone called the album "graceful" and Lif "a rapper as incisive as early-Nineties X-Clan - and far more crucial in these depoliticized times."
Moira McCormick of the Chicago Tribune called I Phantom "a heady, lyrically dazzling, unsparing" hip hop concept album told "with humor, heart and a sorcerer's way with words."
Matt Cibula of PopMatters called the album "smart, realistic, nimble, harsh, funny at times, and a really effective critique of a messed-up society by one of its most intelligent chroniclers", adding that "it sounds like a mission statement. It sounds like victory. And it sounds great in my car."
Robert Christgau of The Village Voice wrote that it "evinces not only conceptual ambition but detailed knowledge of what it's like to work a job and raise a family", and found it to be "underpinned by an analysis more Boots Riley than Talib Kweli or Steve Earle." He also said that the "musically pleasurable" album "fleshes out its cohesive narrative and cogent ideas with beats that respect the spare antipop ethos" without falling back on "wayward rhythm elements" typical of Definitive Jux. He later named it the fifteenth best album of 2002 in his "dean's list" for the Pazz & Jop critics' poll.