Happy 15th Anniversary to Mr. Lif's debut album I Phantom, originally released September 17, 2002
Mr. Lif’s I Phantom is one of the best “concept” hip-hop albums ever recorded. This is not hyperbole. The album, released by Jeff “Mr. Lif” Haynes, 15 years ago, is one of those rare concept albums where both the individual parts and the whole are on equal footing. As an overarching narrative, it is extremely successful. All of the album’s pieces fit together to create a compelling and emotionally effecting story. Furthermore, each track can stand on its own, outside of the whole, without losing its power. That’s rare for concept albums, for any genre.
The Boston-born Lif has been recording music since the mid to late ’90s, releasing a number of classic independent 12”s and helping provide the foundation for the city’s underground hip-hop scene. I Phantom was Lif’s debut full-length album, but it wasn’t his first project that he did for the Definitive Jux label. His Enters the Colossus EP, which dropped in late 2000, was one of the first releases for the label. In June 2002, just months before the release of I Phantom, he dropped the Emergency Rations EP, which Lif says he recorded as a way to take a break from the process of putting together I Phantom. But Emergency Rations directly leads into his debut album, as it ends with a track of the same name, expressing many of the themes that the album subsequently addressed.
For production, Def Jux-CEO/creator El-P splits duties with Lif’s Boston-born and based cohorts like Insight, Fakts One, and Edan. The album they and Lif forge together is often massively ambitious. The central story it tells tackles big ideas, but still manages to be both personal and poignant and extremely funny in places. It has an extremely detailed narrative, which Lif outlines in the album’s liner notes. And he manages to do it all in a little under 50 minutes.
After being killed on the album’s opening track, “A Glimpse of the Struggle,” the two-part, supercharged “Return of the B-Boy” details the narrator’s dream of resurrection, complete with a metaphysical battle with himself in the name of hip-hop music. El-P provides two different tracks, each at a radically different tempo, to showcases Lif’s lyrical and stylistic versatility. Tracks like “Success” and “The Now” explore the crushing and overwhelming weight of expectations and how they can shape and destroy lives.
The album also has moments of alternatively dark and goofy humor. “Live from the Plantation” plays like an even bleaker version of Office Space, as the narrator endures the inanity of the work place. “Status” has a much sillier tone, as Lif raps over a “$10 beat” from Insight, while chronicling his misadventures in the club. There are also moments of poignancy on tracks like “New Man Theme,” as Lif speaks about his personal experiences after dropping out of college, including dealing with the fallout from his family.
Lif also explores the corruptive nature of capitalism on “Iron Helix,” a duet with Insight. And I Phantom ends with a good old-fashioned nuclear holocaust, with “Earthcrusher” detailing the Earth’s destruction and “Post Mortem” dealing with the last thoughts of people throughout the country as they are vaporized. It’s a grim ending to a spectacular debut work of a then up-and-coming artist.
I recently caught up with Mr. Lif, and he delved deep into the genesis of I Phantom’s conception, the recording process, the meaning of the album’s tracks and narratives, and how he views the album 15 years later.
Jesse Ducker: Was it always the plan for I Phantom to be a conceptual album?
Mr. Lif: Absolutely, from its inception. I Phantom came out in 2002, but I’d say that I had been thinking about that record as early as ‘99. I remember vividly, by the time I had started spending some serious chunks of time in the Bay Area in 2000, I was definitely already drafting up track listings. And it was literally an album. I guess I make all my albums based on the track listing and how I envision the record, like coming together and flowing from song to song. But with I Phantom, I remember just drafting up different versions of the track listing. And by early 2001, when I moved to the Bay…I firmly remember being in the new crib and being, “This is the final track listing. This is the order of how I need this all to go to tell this story the way that I want to.”
And then it was just a matter of linking up with talented producers like El-P and Insight and Fakts One to Edan, in order to make it all happen. To make it crystallize.
JD: Were you thinking about putting together I Phantom while making Enters the Colossus?
Lif: [Laughs] Man, I wouldn’t be shocked if there were some serious I Phantom speculations [while making Enters the Colossus]. I didn’t know the name of the album at the time, but I was definitely thinking about doing a full-length. And what I would need that to be in terms of the jump from what I was creating with an EP up to like what an album meant to me. So yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised. You know why I chuckled when you first asked me that question is because there’s records that I have that, some of which are finished, some of which are in different phases of development that are based on concepts that I started in 1998.
JD: So when you’re putting together an album, do you usually start with a track list?
Lif: I think that it’s a convergence of several elements. I’m sure that when I was sculpting the I Phantom track listing, I had at least a couple of the instrumentals already. I probably had the ones that kind of serve as landmarks. I can build around them because they’re already etched in stone.
I can just remember very clearly thinking about a song like “A Glimpse of the Struggle,” and that was one of the songs that didn’t really get written and recorded until I linked up with El-P. I think some of the songs that got done a little bit earlier in the process were something like “Live from the Plantation.” But a song like that, when you think about it, that’s a few songs into the adventure at that point. Or I guess it’s like I have the intro with Vast Aire, and then I have “A Glimpse of the Struggle,” then there’s “Return of the B-Boy Pts. 1 & 2.” And then you get “Live from the Plantation.” So you’re a couple songs in at that point, but having a song like that served as an anchor. Like, “How do I want to build backward from where this is and what do I want to come after this?”
I think another song like “Earth Crusher,” which was produced by Insight, was another one of the earlier songs that was finished for that record. So from there I was like, okay, I know the song after this will need to be something that addresses life after getting hit with a nuclear bomb. Basically you’re exploring the afterlife, you’re thinking back, this is what I was doing when this happened. What are the things that I appreciated about the experience of living? But I also know that some of the things I would want to have, like I had “Earth Crusher” as a land marker, to be like what happens before this? How do we get to this point?
JD: So did you always intend for “I Phantom” to appear as the last song on Emergency Rations rather than the I Phantom album?
Lif: That was very deliberate to leave people on a certain note with the Emergency Rations EP. To leave them with the song “I Phantom,” and then have the lead-in. Because yeah, even on that song, it’s kind of like an everyman song, I’m just going through these stresses of daily life over here, and I feel like I’m drowning, and like hold on, let me check and see if my people who are working in other professions, from other walks of life are feeling disenfranchised. The song being at the end of Emergency Rations was a very intentional thread to prep people for the adventure that I Phantom was going to be.
JD: So could you break down the concept of the I Phantom album?
Lif: It’s just like how we live in this really complex system, this capitalism-driven society, where at the end of the day, when it really comes down to it, you are a social security number, and that’s what you are as an individual. There’s some default settings to this society where you are offered just general frameworks: Go to school and get a job. You know, within that framework, of course, there’s different levels. College is the first chance you have to even make a decision, if you want to even be involved in college or not.
But it’s just like there’s a default setting to life, where if you don’t think too hard about pushing the boundaries, you can just kind of cruise through and the system makes X amount of dollars off of you, and they can count on you needing to have a job at some point, and you’re going to pay taxes out of your paycheck. And then at some point probably you’ll want to buy a house. They know they’re going to get you for that sales tax, they’re going to get you for that income tax, they might even get you for those real estate taxes. And all along they’re going to be trying to figure out how to fuck you out of any sort of pension or run any schemes possible along the way to evaporate your savings and put you in a dire situation. Or they’re going to funnel a bunch of credit cards at you with really high interest rates and put your financial well-being in peril and evaporate your peace of mind in the process.
And along the way, they’re going to feed you a lot of poisonous foods that don’t do your body any sort of benefit. Like no human being in their right mind or with any sort of conscience should feel okay about packaging up to offer to another being to ingest. Because, of course the Food and Drug Administration, there you go, they work hand and hand, right? So they’ve put that Grade A on the food and they know that food’s going to land you in the hospital or create health conditions that are going to send you right over to them again to need some drugs to regulate your blood pressure, to regulate your heart rate, whatever it may be.
When you look at it like that, it just feels like a dire situation and it is quite sobering. And again, it’s not personal, it’s just business. And we are the business of this system. We are some numbers that they use to keep track of us. And they’ve put a bunch of options out there that they figure that most of us will exercise, and then you utilize those options, and then one day you’re gone. And it can feel like a nameless, faceless venture. And that’s what the title of the record really is trying to embody. Just that element of that nameless facelessness that’s involved in the business, not personal policy.
JD: So how did you put together the production line-up for I Phantom?
Lif: The beautiful thing is that it was just all family. We can talk about Fakts One and Insight and Edan. It’s like shit, I came up with those dudes. And so that’s just fam. I met El-P in ‘98. And then we started working on music together in ‘99. That’s when we made “Arise,” which is the closing song on Colossus. I feel like I met Edan, or I at least started knowing about him, in ‘98 or ‘99. But it wasn’t until 2000 that Edan and I made “Rapperfection” [from Edan’s Primitive Plus album] together.
But yeah, it just was really about building with the homies, man, and just making something that was home-cooked. I Phantom is a home-cooked meal.
JD: So let’s break down the album, track by track. The album starts with the “Bad Card” intro.
Lif: That was just intended to pick up where Emergency Rations left off. On Emergency Rations you have this whole thing about how I’ve been abducted, brought in for questioning and never released by some shadowy figures that are thought to be agents of the U.S. government. And then the way I Phantom starts with “Bad Card” is I’m knocking on Vast Aire’s door in this panicked state, claiming that I need a gun. So shit has clearly hit the fan for me and it’s desperate. “Bad Card” is just about maintaining that tone and making people feel like they were picking up a continuation of the situation where Emergency Rations had left off.
JD: “A Glimpse at the Struggle”
Lif: I don’t know why that song popped into my head but I feel like that song stayed with me so long before it was ever recorded, man. Obviously I had to link up with El-P to get the beat and really write the song, but I’m just saying, in my mind, that song was just there. It just was lingering and I think it shows this, at its height, maybe at its poetic height that song showed this very delicate and tragic cross-section of the plight of those that are disenfranchised or maybe struggling financially. I think that song captures some desperation, obviously, from the main character, feeling like I need to go knock off this convenience store in order to have enough money to just live right now. Which is a really desperate situation to be in.
So that song is just showing a cross-section of this, you got the chips so stacked against you, and then when you act out of desperation, and in this situation the guy finally loses, he’s lying on the ground bleeding out and his final thoughts are just like, “Yeah, man, this is what they had planned for me anyway. I fucking played the game and I lost.” And it’s just a very sad state. So the goal of that song was to start people off, start the album with a gripping tale but also have that tale really touch on some of the more bitter and harsh aspects of our society.
JD: “Return of the B-Boy Parts One and Two”
Lif: It’s that thing of wanting to have a seamless transition from one song to the next in terms of the storyline unfolding. So you know, the brother got shot, but everything’s with a greater purpose. He’s dead but music needed him back. He wasn’t allowed to die because he had a greater purpose to come back for. And he finds himself on this mission to save hip-hop culture or reinstate certain elements of it that are held in a very high esteem by those who love it. So that’s what that was about. I’m thinking with the two different beats on “B-Boy,” it just allowed me to flex some styles, you know? The first half, “B-Boy Part One,” I won’t say it’s slow and plodding because it’s not, but it leaves more space for me to style out. Hold onto some notes here and there, and just approach things with a drawl and add a layer to the storytelling.
And then I think when “Part Two kicks” in, it’s like okay, this is like the emcee Olympics type shit. Not a lot of brothers have rhymed over that type of tempo. I know back in the day, fast rap was more of a thing, but it’s like at that point in time that was one of those things that it was like okay, not only do I have the challenge of rhyming at this tempo, but I also have to keep this story intact and flex that emcee pedigree. So it was a nice moment to be able to write that and be like, “Okay, this story checks out. This is completely maintaining the integrity of everything I want to accomplish with this section of the record.” And then to also be able to display that verbal dexterity, and even within the song to be battling each individual emcee to free a different classic album. Like albums that are the cornerstone of hip-hop, like It Takes a Nation of Millions, or 36 Chambers, 3 Feet High and Rising. So I feel like that song embodies all the enthusiasm and love I had for the culture at that point in time and luckily still have today.
That shit came together in such a whirlwind of creation. I’ll put it like this: at like 11pm or midnight the day before that record was being passed in, we were still working on “Return of the B-Boy Part Two.” DJ Abilities was literally at El-P’s crib like laying down the cuts around midnight. And earlier that same day I think El had put in some of the James Brown stabs or whatever. So we worked on that record up until we were like, “Okay, gotta pass it in to the label.”
There were just so many beautiful moments. Things that people just don’t get to see about the process, like the fact that Vast Aire and I were basically roommates living at El-P’s apartment during the creation of that record. I have my place in Boston but I would go to New York for stretches of time to work with El. And Vast Aire and I were running, probably like Madden 2002 or 2001, we had a co-op season going with the Saints and we were trying to win the Super Bowl. So it’s like when we’re not writing or recording, I’m in the room with Vast Aire playing Madden or we’re watching episodes of Shogun’s Assassin, watching fools get beheaded and shit. It’s just fun shit like that that makes the experiences so indelibly etched in my mind.
JD: “Live from the Plantation”
Lif: “Live from the Plantation” is a song that I originally produced myself on the EPS 16-plus. But the beat, I was like, “This could be taken to a higher level.” So the version that I produced, it was a two-part beat, so it was probably half the song was over one instrumental, and then the other part was over a different part of the instrumental. When I passed it to Edan, it was already a song that had lyrics recorded, so I was literally able to pass him the a capella, and just like, “Yo, E, I want you to build something.” And that’s when he built it from scratch and added in the dream sequence from that part where I’m daydreaming about slaughtering the boss and everything like that.
I love working with Edan. And I remember some of these points where I was working with other producers like Edan, or I would end up having to go back to Boston to work with Edan, or going back to Boston Fakts One or working with Insight. So even though I was spending time in New York, it was nice to get those respites to go home and to build with my boys. And just make some new things. So it was great in that regard, to be able to go back and do stuff like that and all the songs that aren’t produced by El-P on that album gave me an opportunity to do so.
JD: “New Man Theme”
Lif: That’s one of those therapeutic songs where it’s like, that’s the time in my life where I dropped out of school and it was super tough for me. Particularly my father was super let down that I dropped out of school. So that’s just one of those songs that you write and it’s cathartic, because I need to get those thoughts off my chest. It was tough times after I came back home, letting my family down like that.
JD: What was it like fitting a song based on your personal experiences into the overarching narrative, where a lot of it is you telling stories, and then this is your personal experience right in the middle of it?
Lif: That’s a really great question, especially during that era. It’s not really since I’ve come back from my hiatus that I’ve been more comfortable expressing things about my personal life. I feel like even on I Phantom you get that splash of me being overtly personal about my experiences on “New Man Theme.” It was a nice cathartic piece of my real life to add to a story that was multilayered, that often was not based on my actual life.
JD: “Status” featuring Insight
Lif: That is just me being completely foolish, dawg. That is a break-fool moment the record where you just take all that awkwardness, because that’s a very real point in life, when it’s like okay, you’re not longer in school, you’re not going along with the default setting for life anymore, and they’re like okay, make it on your own, kid. And I feel like okay, let me figure out where do I go to meet women, how can I try to be my own version of cool and all this stuff. I remember feeling that pressure to be someone that either goes and hangs out at the mall to meet chicks or someone that goes to clubs. And I always had this feeling in the back of my mind, like, “The music sucks here. I don’t like this, I’m not enjoying myself.” So that was always a challenge for me personally. Trying to exist in those spaces and the song “Status” was really about capturing that awkwardness.
JD: Was that really a $10 beat by Insight?
Lif: You know what? It probably was. I went to him with the concept and I was just like the character in the story is just super down on his luck. He has no means for anything. I think that Insight probably has a thing like yeah, “The beat should sound like shit. It should be as low-fi as possible and maybe even out of phase and should not even professionally be on an album.”
JD: “Success” featuring Aesop Rock
Lif: That one is just like something I spent a lot of time thinking about at the time. I think we all think about that, whether you’re in school, whether you dropped out of school or you stayed in school to further your education, you got a doctorate or whatever you did. I think that one of the most pressing notions that we all have to define for ourselves is what is success? There’s cats out there that have millions of dollars and don’t feel like they have enough, they aren’t successful enough or whatever. I think that it’s important to be able to define things that, define what the parameters are for your own happiness. And to feel like, “Okay, at what point do I feel like I’ve made it? Because if you listen to capitalism, they’ll be like you have to at least be a multimillionaire. At the very least, in order to really have made it.”
And that’s not true. You can be happy, it just depends on how you set your life up. Are you going to go buy that house that costs X amount of millions of dollars and have your monthly mortgage be like 10 Gs? Or are you going to buy a nice single-family home that you’d be comfortable in and maybe even rent a couple rooms out to people and make it so that your life is light. Or lighter, I should say. These are all choices that we all have to make.
And so I think with “Success” it’s just like you have a character who has his own idea of what success is, and he thinks to be a successful dad I have to be out here working 24/7 to provide for my kids. And he just loses sight of the fact that the real value of your life and what you can offer is the love that your family wants from you. And it’s just kind of a tragic view of someone that loses sight. He’s been duped by the system to think, “I gotta work. My family will love me if I’m generating X amount of money.” And it’s like, “No, your family will love you if you’re around, man.” And he learns that in a very hard way. It’s a very sad road that the character has to go through to find that out.
JD: “The Now”
Lif: I guess now that we’re talking about it, man, the album deals with how expectations can be a poisonous factor in life. Like the little girl in “The Now” whose parents expect her to just be a straight-A student at all costs, and she’s just living a miserable life because she feels like nothing she does is ever good enough. Or just how tragic it is that the father in the song has a new family and leaves his son behind, and his son wants to have a bond with him and it’s like Mom has to tell him daddy’s got a new life now, new family. It’s tough, how dismissive his father is in that phone call. It’s real tough stuff, gut-wrenching. So yeah, to be able to address a topic like that on that album felt important to me to be able to express. Because these are some very real things in life that people do go through, man, and none of it’s easy. It’s really not.
JD: That beat is different than other beats that El-P produced for the album. What drew you to it?
Lif: Honestly the way that all came together was awkward, and that’s why there’s a section of my rhyme where I’m off beat. But honestly, dude, he made that. And it was one of those ones where I was like “Yo, El, man. Just stop there. Don’t produce it, don’t put anything else on that. I just like that raw, whatever you did, I want to fuck with that.” And I even think that I kept some of those that are first takes. Like I didn’t want to go back and mess with it. Because whatever the tone was that I felt at the time was captured in my delivery, it just felt authentic and real to me. I just didn’t want to alter it. So I’m like okay, I just want to let this one exist, even with its imperfections. Even with me sliding offbeat in that one section of the rhyme and all that stuff.
I do believe in that type of stuff. Sometimes when you’re recording something like that with some sincerely tough times that the characters are going through, I’m like let’s just leave this one raw. Let’s let it be what it is, and at least to my mind, some of that type of stuff pays off sometimes.
JD: “Friends and Neighbors”
Lif: It’s heavy, man. That’s one of those where Fakts One hit me with that beat, and I’m like, “You’ve gotta be kidding me, dog. That shit’s savage.” I feel like it gave me an opportunity to get my Kool G Rap on. There’s just something about that tempo and the way that the beat demands that I danced on it verbally. And yeah, to just be able to touch on these little flashes of peoples’ lives. To just have this quick glimpse in and tell you a little bit about their struggle. Usually it was something fucked up, but just to tell you about these ills of society and how these ills are manifesting in all these different peoples’ lives.
It’s a texture that I thought was almost like a little capsule of the album all in itself, that song. Because yeah, you’re focusing on this one person’s life, and on the many phases of this one character’s life. But here’s all these other people in the world that are totally fucked up or going through some really crazy shit. And hence the title “Friends and Neighbors.” These are the people in your lives. Shit is not sweet out here. And I think it was a way to say this society we live in needs some work. We all gotta do a little bit better here because a lot of this shit is kinda crazy.
JD: “Iron Helix” featuring Insight
Lif: Yeah, that’s definitely one of my favorite cuts on the album. That’s one of my favorite Insight beats of all time. It’s so uncompromisingly rugged, you know what I mean? It’s very simple, but it’s just like the feel of it, the tone. There’s just a texture there that, I know, it’s not currently predominant in rap, I mean, when you think about the stuff that’s up on the radio or whatever. But it’s just like a really filthy, grimy, relentless, just underground hip hop shit right there, like I love that beat. But I think that what was accomplished on it in terms of the poetry, what was verbally expressed on that track, it fulfilled the requirements of what I needed that slot in the album to do, which was to have Insight playing the role of just somebody who’s just living a more like tribal type of life. Just living in accordance with the land, you know, living very simply. Not familiar with roads, or any construction, or any technology, or even familiar with capitalism, or anything that’s modernized at all. Basically, the character was kind of just standing with the doctrine of the modern world.
It’s like this sad folly where you just see someone who’s probably like doing 0% harm to the planet, with a very simple lifestyle, probably hunting once a week to eat some meat, but other than that like living off the land. But someone that’s living a very uncomplicated life without forcibly succumbing to the ways of modern society.
So it’s kind of a loss of innocence, if you will, kind of throughout the course of that song. You watch Insight’s character transform from someone that knows nothing of the modern world to someone that’s using credit cards and probably getting involved in unsavory business dealings.
Lif: I think that’s why “Iron Helix” builds up to a point of nuclear war, because you get on that path to feeling like you have to be the most powerful person, not only in your neighborhood, not only in your state, not only in your country, but then on the planet. You’re just like, “How am I going to exercise or exemplify my force?” It’s crazy that we have nuclear bombs on this planet, that’s a real thing. Some people that we probably wouldn’t even want to sit down at a table and break bread with determine every day whether or not they’re going to use one of those to desecrate the planet. The fact that anyone thinks that that’s even an option is just so crazy to me.
Okay, so you just feel like you can scorch a section of the earth and just completely disintegrate all of its inhabitants and make sure that nothing can even grow there for the next 40 years? There’s a strong possibility that you’re really a complete dick if you think that way.
JD: “Post Mortem” featuring Jean Grae, El-P, and Akrobatik
Lif: That’s an El-P beat. I just wanted to do a song where you’re capturing everybody’s last thoughts. They might see that light of the bomb, that’s the last thing that they’re seeing. And it’s just like, your last batch of thoughts as your physical disintegration is well underway. It’s not even like you get to say goodbye to the world, it’s just like you didn’t even really know it was coming and then you’re just gone. I just thought it would be interesting to capture what people’s final thoughts were. Some people express regret, things that they should’ve done.
You know, I know that my character felt that there were some things that he should’ve done more. Jean Grae came through with the super-morbid verse that she was doing back then. That track thematically served its purpose coming in after “Earthcrusher.” I feel very glad that the album closed with that song and then the fact that it was also a posse cut with a bunch of artists that I truly respect, you know. All thematically doing a great job of executing the plan.
JD: So when you look back on your career so far and the albums that you’ve made, where do you rank I Phantom?
Lif: I have to respect it for the way that it’s affected people. Just seeing the way that people talk about the record nowadays, it makes me wish I had done more for it. I wish I had actually done film so that people could watch I Phantom. And who knows, maybe at some point I’ll just take some of my resources and I’m going to make a full visual for this record, beginning to end. Just to kind of commemorate it, fully.
I would say this. I respect I Phantom for everything that that experience was. I loved making that record. I absolutely loved making that record. You only get to have a debut album once, and I have no regrets with what I brought forth to the world. Like, if I can just say, “Yeah, that was my debut album,” I feel great about that. Absolutely great.
In the scope of my career, and for me as a creative person, I think that this record set forth a template for how I work in terms of really making it. If I happened to say that there’s one default way that I look at making music more than any other way, it’s the way that I Phantom is structured. I do tend to think about, “Okay, so when this song finishes, what happens next? What’s the best thing to happen thematically at this juncture in this record?”
I feel like I Phantom was a special recording process. But I would also say making the [Perceptionists’] Black Dialogue album with Fakts One and Ak, that was one of the most fun times in my career in terms of being in the studio making a record. So, I Phantom, Black Dialogue, and I’d have to say, also, [the Perceptionists’ second album] Resolution.
Oh, wait, hold on though, man. Now that I think about the Enters the Colossus recording process or Emergency Rations…all these experiences are very, very special. I guess if I had to choose in order, maybe the top three there, I maybe have to say I Phantom, Black Dialogue, Resolution.
JD: So what are your thoughts on how I Phantom worked as a whole?
Lif: You know, the overall record, it’s just one of those amazing moments where opportunity, resources, and creativity all converge at the same time I just found myself in the midst of a cultural revolution with independent hip-hop music. I happened to be very closely linked and good friends with the guy that really, in my opinion, set off the independent movement. To my best recollection, it was Company Flow and J-Live that had records out that I heard first that were released independently.
So, to be working so closely with El, to have him start Def Jux, to have him also want to make me one of the flagship artists, and to put the type of time and care into crafting those instrumentals, obviously offered me a place to stay throughout the course of making the record, so that we basically lived at the studio.
To just have that bucket of talent around, man, to be writing a song like “Success,” and Aesop Rock just happens to be at the crib that day, and he’s like, “I’ll hop on that chorus,” you know. And just stuff like that. It just really was amazing. With me being driven the way I was and being ambitious to put everything together from a thematic standpoint like that, and then to have group of artists be available, and around, and willing, and excited to do the work. There’s just so much that goes into art, and I think that when you can get these rare moments, that’s how some pieces of music, or some albums as a whole end up being special.
Sure, a lot of special things can happen when it’s just one man or one woman in a room just writing songs themselves. There’s a certain level of intimacy that goes into that. My favorite moments as a musician have been like that, too, but there was a camaraderie throughout that entire course of making I Phantom. And whether that camaraderie was coming from my boys in Boston, like Fakts One and Insight, that were able to make some really pivotal beats for the record, or whether I was chillin’ with Edan, or whether I was back in New York working with El-P. Everywhere I turn, there was a lot of love, there was a lot of enthusiasm, and there was a lot of creative genius from the artists that I was working with. And everyone just wanted to make it happen, man.
There’s so much stuff you don’t see that goes into making records, and I think it really calls for a lot of good energy to be present to make a record that’s really special.