Phonte is the type of artist you’re glad to have in your iPod and don’t necessarily mind if nobody else does. You might not reccomend his music to all of your friends, just the ones who have taste…the ones who expect a little more out of music. The same can be said of the two groups Phonte has been a member of: Little Brother and Foreign Exchange. Though you want the artist themselves to do well, it’s the type of music you almost don’t want to get too popular for fear of it losing its integrity and its quality in the process. Phonte’s debut Charity Starts At Home is like proof that Phonte is probably not the artist who will blow up all crazy and sacrifice quality in doing so. That is, if Phonte himself or the buying public elect for him “blowing up” in the traditional sense.
It’s easy to appreciate the production as much as the rhymes. 9th Wonder surprisingly appears on four of the 12 tracks, but the other producers get just as busy. For example, Fatin 10 Horton produced “We Go Off”, which features Pharoahe Monch exchanging bars with Phontigga over a beat reminiscent of Little Brother’s heyday, similar to “Eternally” which features Median. Elzhi appears on “Not Here Anymore”, a joint with a soulful hook and chock full of rewindable lines.
“The Life Of Kings” is a thoughtful, jazzy 9th joint that boasts Phonte in the company of the very capable Evidence and Big K.R.I.T. Phonte meshes well with all of his guest artists in the sense that they’re complimenting him and not the other way around or overshadowing him altogether. Some of the best tracks are Phonte holding it down dolo, though. “The Good Fight” is a track that briefly touches on job loss and the economy, flying in the face of mainstream hip-hop’s all-out denial of these things going on in the world.
“Everybody prays for the day they see the light / but the light at the end of the tunnel is a train” – Phonte “The Good Fight”
There’s a strong soul element to Charity Starts At Home, with a lot of tracks being joints you could easily play for your woman when you’re in that smoothed-out state of mind. Eric Roberson appears on “Who Loves You More” to lend vocals, while “Gonna Be A Beautiful Night” featuring Carlitta Durand, is almost a pure new soul joint that only features a verse from Phonte. “To Be Yours” is a piano-laced interlude that probably should have been longer. However, Charity Starts At Home is masterful in its brevity: twelve tracks without any unnecessary components or uncalled-for intros or interludes.
“They say the streets turn niggas into sinners / but them jail cells be turning niggas into dinner / so they sing in the summer, be home by the winter / interrogation room be turning niggas into tenors” – Phonte, “Who Loves You More”
What I appreciate about this album overall is its honesty. I like Rick Ross just as much as the next open-minded hip-hop fan, but I’d question a person who could listen to that type of music all day, every day, without any soul or anything different thrown in for good measure. Can’t be pouring Ciroc on model bitches every night…some nights you might just wanna sip a brew after a long day at work. Phonte speaks to those of us who want something more; those of us who have steady jobs, children, and some responsibilities…and does all of this while still making fun records and not preaching. Granted, this may not be your cup of tea and it’s definitely not for everyone, but “for everyone” isn’t something I give much weight to when determining quality music.
Rating: BUYABLE + Attend the live show
Not Here Anymore x Phonte f. Elzhi
The Life Of Kings x Phonte f. Evidence & Big K.R.I.T.