Album: Charity Starts At Home
Label: The Foreign Exchange
When it comes to underground artists, Phonte is the cream of the crop. Not only can he out rap your favorite rapper, but he can easily hold his own against your favorite singer as well. With all of the critical acclaim he has received over the past decade for his work with Little Brother, The Foreign Exchange and a variety of other projects, it’s hard to believe that Charity Starts At Home is ‘Te’s first entirely solo effort. The twelve track album is a solid body of work that pleasantly balances Phonte’s always dependable skills as an MC with his ability to serenade listeners with his consistently smooth crooning. So weather you prefer Tigalo’s modern renditions of 80’s hits or if your favorite Little Brother album was The Listening, even if you’re just discovering ‘Te for the first time, chances are there’s something you’re going to enjoy on Charity Starts At Home.
If Phonte could make beats the same quality as his flow and his falsetto, then dude would be the perfect triple threat. However, that is not the case so ‘Te enlisted his old friend 9th Wonder to assist him with a lot of the production on Charity Starts At Home. 9th produced some of the best joints on the album including “Eternally” where Phonte and fellow North Carolina MC Median trade bars “Otis” style, as well as the song “The Life Of Kings” which features verses from Big K.R.I.T. and Evidence. But 9th’s best work on the album undoubtedly comes on the track “Not Here Anymore” where he uniquely chops up a sample of Rose Royce’s 1978 hit “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” providing that signature 9th wonder sound, reminiscent of the early Little Brother days. However, instead of Rapper Big Pooh, who is noticeably absent on the album, Phonte spits along side Elzhi who kills his verse with multiple multi syllable rhymes.
In addition to Elzhi, the one other guest on the album who is capable of keeping up with Phonte as it pertains to the rapping is Pharoahe Monch. Pharoahe joins Phontigga on the track “We Go Off” and the two do exactly what the song title suggests. Monch eclipses the lackluster beat on “We Go Off” by spitting a series of clever lines such as “The antithesis of Steve Jobs when I rap, MAC”.
“Ball and Chain” is one of the few songs on the album that really bangs. The majority of Charity Starts At Home has a slow and calm undertone to it but “Ball and Chain” gives listeners a funky break from the chill atmosphere that defines the rest of the album. The track also displays Phonte’s underrated range as a singer.
“The Good Fight” is one of the strongest songs on the album, and is a song that anyone who has ever been laid off can relate to as Phonte paints a very personal picture of someone who gets let go from his job and then goes on to address the future of his employment. Not only is the song extremely relatable but it also includes some of Tigalo’s best lyricism on the album as he conveys thought provoking metaphors like “Everybody prays for the day they see the light / But the light at the end of the tunnel is a train”. He also spits the noteworthy and extremely relevant line “How the f*ck you sell out when aint no body selling?”
‘Te brings up a good point with that last line, given the current state of the music industry. However, regardless of what defines selling out in 2011, it’s something that Phonte isn’t planning on doing anytime soon. He lets listeners know this like the true lyrical genius that he is by spitting the following bars on “Dance In The Reign”, bars that epitomize ‘Te’s whole career… “Please beg pardon but I’m not starving / This rap sh*t is not the life I live / It’s a tool that I use, that’s it / No great fortune to show for it but fortunate / that no one can’t say his life aint his / some might even say underachiever / because they are not believers / That I want the world but I done seen the world / and if you ever saw it hell you wouldn’t want it either / I don’t need a kingdom, just want a home / you can take a seat or you can take a throne / as long it’s known ant a dam thing changed / still the underground king n*gga dance in the reign.”
That sixteen sums up why Phonte has been one of the best kept secrets in hip hop for quite some time now. The dude could probably be in the conversation with the Kanye’s, Wayne’s and the Hova’s as one of the best MC’s in the game, but by his own admission, ‘Te just simply would rather take much less of a mainstream route. Therefore not many people outside of the “Hip Hop Head” community are going to pay much attention to this album. But as he states on “Dance In The Reign”, that’s okay with Phonte, and I’m sure it’s more than okay for all of his fans who cherish ‘Te as he continues to shine as Hip Hop’s hidden gem.