Phonte Coleman is a man of many facets. From Little Brother to Foreign Exchange and his many melodic contributions to the tracks of others, Tiggalo’s finger prints can be found all over the iPods of those with a discerning ear. He’s almost as adept a crooner as he is a rapper, which begs the question of his solo debut, Charity Starts At Home, which Phonte is showing up to the party? You are in luck folks. Each one makes an appearance and the performances are great from both sides of the Phonte dyad. Little Brother fans can rejoice though. Rapping Tay takes the lion’s share of the spotlight.
The themes Phonte tackles don’t stray far from what he has been doing throughout the duration of his career. It’s common man rap; an outpouring of topics his listeners can relate to, from money woes (“The Good Fight”) to honoring your bride (“Ball and Chain,”) with some proper Hip-Hop chest thumping (“Dance In the Reign”) for good measure. In a time when many major label rappers have become disconnected from the community that produced them, it’s a welcome experience.
The production for the most part is solid. Swiff D makes a great contribution on “Dance In The Reign” with its starburst synth, church organ and weighty atmospherics. It’s rich without being overbearing, allowing Phonte’s self big ups to take center stage. He also tosses in the foundation for “Ball and Chain” that features a slow slide of horns over a guitar and simple drums. The intermittent piano ties it all together.
Then of course there is 9th Wonder with his looped soul samples and signature Oh Oh Ohhhhhh’s. “The Good Fight” is a good mellow foundation, but the beat spins as if wrapped around an agitator with no real progression. Rose Royce gets the sample treatment on “Not Here Anymore.” Again a solid track, but the vocal samples meander in wonderfully at some points, sloppily at others. “Life of Kings” follows that same pattern, but pulls it off perfectly.
Phonte’s features bring strength to the album without bullying him off of it. Even in the presence of the ever ping-ponging, brilliantly oddball delivery of Pharoahe Monch on “We Go Off” (that 5th Dimension sample tho…) or Big K.R.I.T.’s Southern fried gospel on “Life of Kings,” Phonte plays the gracious host while standing shoulder to shoulder with his guests. The Affion Crockett feature that finds itself hovering somewhere between piggish and brutal honesty leads into “Sendin My Love,” a song that tackles the issue of committed men traversing a world of free floating puddy.
Sometimes Phonte reaches into areas with his lyricism you wished he hadn’t.
He’s the captain that told me Tennille. Oh and then there’s Not Jewish, but when you hit a man…Hebrews.
However, Tigallo is charismatic enough that his few banal lines seem delivered with a wink. Almost like that charming guy at the bar who can still make the worst pick up line work.
Both “To Be Yours” and “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” host singing Phonte in quiet storm mode. The former is a bit more easy-listening jazz than its more modern partner, but both are reminiscent of jacket-only dinning with silver finger bowls and dudes dressed like penguins that hang up your coat for you. You have to drink tea with your pinky out to listen to these properly.
The closing track, “Who Loves You More,” serves as a summation, a thoughtful view of the care and generosity engendered when charity starts at home. It’s an appeal for compromise and forgiveness even in the worst of times spread over handclaps, piano work and throbbing electric guitar riffs that ends with this line:
I got a room and a microphone and a family I ain’t seen in months. And I played this record a million times just hoping you would play it once.
That’s love and humility like Hip-Hop hasn’t seen in a long while. It’s a wonderful sentiment and a perfect close.
There’s no big punch track here. Car culture, flickering strobes and the bitches will have to wait for someone else’s solo debut. Charity Starts At Home, while experiencing a few choppy waves, flows like water. The overarching power of this album outweighs the issues the individual songs present. In the end, you forget that 9th’s drums are repetitive and EV sounds a tad out of place. Charity Starts At Home is all of the things we wish for when Hip-Hop goes dumb or too commercial. Instead of chopping up Maybachs or throwing the average person’s yearly salary at a stripper in the space of one song, Phonte wows us with stories of ourselves, mirror images of what we see daily and makes it sound wonderful. Mr. Coleman has taken Hip-Hop’s road less traveled with this one and that has made all the difference.
4.5 Out of 5
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