"Phantom" is the last track on Mr. Lif's first release of 2002, the Emergency Rations EP. Lif would follow up this EP with his first LP, the similarly-titled I Phantom.
"Phantom" the song is in many ways a teaser for I Phantom the album. The rest of the EP is good, but this is clearly the standout track, better than any of Lif's previous work. It whets your appetite and makes you want the new album RIGHT NOW. (Did I Phantom deliver on this promise? Yes, it did).
This track is produced by Lif's Def Jux labelmate, and Def Jux label honcho, El-P. As far as I'm aware this is the first collaboration between Def Jux's star producer and star battle rhymer, and the results do not disappoint. The two would pair up for several tracks on the full-length as well.
Phantom is a dark, lightning-fast overview of the world that Lif would explore in cunning detail on the I Phantom LP. Dishonest media, poverty, creative and career frustration, broken families, governments beyond caring about their citizens -- it's all here, at least tiny bits of it, warming you up for the hi-resolution narrative statement that Lif was preparing to release.
El-P's backing track is, in a word, sick. The layered beat thumps like a slow, determined heartbeat, and slides like huge metal brushes sweeping the trash off the streets. The sci-fi synth melody is like the whirring of thousands of robot arms building the technological society that threatens to drown Lif out. An instant classic.
Check it out
I been waitin', playin', for a long time
X amount of thoughts carried out in my mind
I turn on the TV and see crimes
Script written diligently and aired on time
Push the power button, now to devour somethin'
Opened up my fridge and found nothin
Dipped to my room with an aura of gloom
Wishin' I could write another tune
But my hands are paralyzed, plus my eyes
Wanna shed tears, but it's not possible, there's
The burden of things I couldn't bear
Feelings weren't dealt with properly
Remorse follows me
With his good friend the threat of poverty
Here's where I am, versus where I think I oughta be
There's a certain chance I'm a victim of circumstance
I take a look at myself and at first glance
I see who I recently thought to be me
Based on identities public and private
Behold the radio pirate, ya nigga
A felon, chillin' with a gun to your melon
A pimp with his pockets swellin', a jester
A slave with wounds that fester
The wanna-be pre-med 3-D dread
An academic reject hopin' to detect
Why we wreck what God gave, human laws are laid
We go to war, come back and come home with more
I'm kind, friendly, your worst enemy
Charming, crass, and potentially
Dangerous, have you ever heard of such?
I'm invisible and impossible to touch--
This is how my beautiful melting identity corrupts
And I can't manipulate
For the same line description of one amongst many
Is the macro, made from the pain of the fragile
I still say "fresh", "dope", and things of that sort
I don't shoot up, smoke crack, or take shorts
Your thoughts are always welcome, I seldom
Won't enter another's perspective, corrective lenses
Are somethin' that I wear, so I can see the globe real clear
Look, there's famine over there, plus the families in fear
Of disease and distress that lingers in the air
These are the words of a man in purgatory
Words of a simpleton living in oblivion
Is this the model for life you were envisionin'?
Free as can be in a world of imprisonment?
I dare you to check new territory
American dream? Time for another story
One where I don't choke to keep afloat
I'm sick of livin' on false visions of hope
With a knife to my own throat
Stick of dynamite inside my overcoat
Because I know the ropes
Reality in this world is bought and sold
A very limited scope of life is shown
And I'm just one in the mold, fully controlled
Left to erode in my humble abode
You won't hear me because I got no loot
You don't hear me because you won't compute
I'm docile, psycho, have you heard of such?
I'm invisible and impossible to touch...
Single mother, who are you? (I phantom...)
Office worker, who are you? (I phantom...)
Caught up in the system, who are you? (I phantom.)
Tryin' to earn a living, who are you? (I phantom!)
Depressed and uninspired, who are you? (I phantom.)
Hard-workin', broke and tired, who are you? (I phantom?)
Seekin' education, who are you? (I phantom.)
Can't get a hit no matter what you do? (I PHANTOM.)
NOTE: El-P's chorus is fucking impossible to understand. I'm sure I didn't get it right. If anyone has a better idea of what he's saying, please let me know.