Thursday, December 15, 2011

Charity Starts at Home

by Phonte

Phonte is one of the people in the music industry that I respect the most.  When Little Brother got their start, I found that his raps were by far the freshest and coolest part of the group, and for a while, I was in agreement with the throngs of people who heralded 9th Wonder as one of the greatest producers of the decade.  Then, as time went on, I found that 9th was starting to get a little stale for me.

It was around that same time that Phonte started working with Nicolay, to create Foreign Exchange, and by their second album together, Te had basically stopped rapping all together, and I discovered that he sang even better than he rapped.  Side projects, like the crazy 80s cover EP he did with Zo! helped cement my esteem for the man.  Then, in the last year, Foreign Exchange dropped Authenticity, which was incredible, and their live concert DVD/CD, which has become one of my favourite discs of the year.

And then Phonte released Charity Starts at Home, his new solo hip-hop album.  The first time I played it, I thought that it felt like a few steps backwards towards mediocrity, although I have to say that it has grown on me with repeated playing (I've had it in the rotation since September - I always take forever to write about music).

The album does not start off all that well.  The first track is decent (thanks to Sy Smith), but things bog down quickly through the second and third.  What makes this record work are the tracks where Te starts singing hooks or more, such as on 'Not Here Anymore', which has Elzhi guesting, 'Sending My Love', 'Ball and Chain' (sorta), 'To Be Yours' (a very short track produced by Zo!), and 'Gonna Be a Beautiful Night'.  'We Go Off' is a harder track that shows that Phonte can still throw down with some of the best, as he holds his own next to Pharoahe Monch.

At the end of the day, there is something very likable about Phonte, and that gets summed up at the end of the last track, 'Who Loves You More', when he says "I played this record a million times, hoping you would play it once."  There is a level of craftsmanship in his work that is rare in hip-hop these days, but I'd still be much happier were he to do more work with Nicolay and Sy Smith...

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