Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Mr. Lif: I Phantom [Definitive Jux, 2002]
I've long suspected that a musically pleasurable album would betray everything the misanthropes at Def Jux stood for--their principles, their vision, their neuroses. But all it took was a normal rapper, which Mr. Lif is--for a rapper, abnormally so. However autobiographical this song cycle, which begins with a stickup and ends with a nuclear holocaust, it evinces not only conceptual ambition but detailed knowledge of what it's like to work a job and raise a family. It's underpinned by an analysis more Boots Riley than Talib Kweli or Steve Earle. And it 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. A