BY MATTHEW HENGEVELD My boy Phonte, aka Tigallo of Little Brother fame, has finally gone solo and it couldn’t have come soon enough. Charity Starts at Home is the perfect reminder of why your favorite rapper (see Kanye) is simply a clone of my favorite rapper. Yes, Phonte Coleman is my favorite rapper, and I’m not afraid to say that he might be the best of all time. And it’s definitely safe to say that after a hiatus from the rap game, Tay stays winnin’.
A little background info for those sitting in the dark: Little Brother was a hip-hop trio that dished up two classic albums in the mid-‘00s: The Listening and The Minstrel Show. Born into the Native Tongues vein of underground hip-hop, the trio often garnered comparisons to ‘90s hip-hop all-stars, A Tribe Called Quest. The group consisted of Phonte, Big Pooh, and producer-extraordinaire 9th Wonder, a throwback boom-bap producer who embodied the true backbone of the trio. All was going swimmingly until the fine folks at BET banned Little Brother’s music video for “Lovin’ It,” the lead single for The Minstrel Show, from the station for being “too intelligent” for its audience. In short, Little Brother fell apart, Phonte joined an R&B group, yadda yadda yadda.
On the track “Say it Again” from The Minstrel Show, Phonte described his hip-hop philosophy as such: “I love hip-hop, I just hate the niggas in it.” Nearly six years after those lines were spit, Phonte’s philosophy has changed from love-hate to hate-hate. Charity Starts at Home displays a rapper who admits “this rap shit is not the life I live / it’s a tool that I use, that’s it.” He’s turned bitter from the partners he’s lost and the opportunities that were fumbled. However, Phonte’s distaste for hip-hop ultimately benefits his greatest trait as an emcee — his “everyman appeal.” For example, most rappers nowadays are talking about boobs and cars; Phonte kicks off his album with “The Good Fight,” a boom-bap slammer about the state of the economy — more specifically, being laid off. What’s more real than that right now? “If you’re thinking about quitting, you should probably wait, because everybody gotta do a fuckin job that they hate…. Keep it real Tay and never sell out, but how the fuck you sell out when nobody sellin?” Potent lyrics that not only address the economic state of the country, but also Phonte’s own battle with “selling out” and focusing more of his attention on his singing career.
Charity Starts at Home signifies the reunion of Phonte and his old buddy 9th Wonder. The producer and emcee haven’t been on speaking terms for nearly 5 years. Although 9th only produces four out of twelve cuts on Charity Starts at Home, his presence is felt throughout the album and provides an optimistic foil to Phonte’s often pessimistic tone. Tracks featuring Slum Village’s Elzhi and Phonte’s original partner-in-crime Median are masterfully produced by 9th Wonder. These tracks are carefree, bouncing tracks, and bring to mind the “fun-times” on the classic Little Brother albums. Some fans might be upset that this album isn’t all fun and games. As I said, this album is a huge win for Phonte. He’s shown that he can still rock a mic despite a multi-year hiatus and a lucrative excursion into RnB. He brings a cynical, yet whimsical (yes, whimsical) edge to hip-hop in 2011, a year plagued with Mafioso characters and drug-indulging meatheads. Charity Starts at Home trumps all of 2011’s front-runners, including Action Bronson, Raekwon, Shabazz Palaces, Kanye and Jay-Z. This album belongs in any true hip-hop head’s collection.