Phonte is of the rare breed of rappers that can sing a tune as easily as they can rap, and do so with great success. Whether it's been as part of Little Brother with Rapper Big Pooh and producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder or as one-half of R&B group Foreign Exchange, the Greensboro, NC native's vocal prowess has nearly always met critical acclaim. When he's rapping, his flow is very confident and polished, while his singing voice adds a great element to his body of work. Simply put, aside of Mos Def and Lauryn Hill, I can't think of an MC who can use both techniques as effectively as Phonte does.
Since 2007 saw 9th Wonder quit working with Little Brother, Phonte is without a doubt the former member who has had the most success. Most recently, he has delivered strong contributions to the last Roots and Pharoahe Monch albums, among others. But curiously, among so many projects (three albums with Little Brother, three with Foreign Connection), he has never found the time to record a solo output.
In comes Charity Starts at Home
. The album is a great introduction for those who have never heard of Phonte, and a great reminder of what he is able to accomplish for his long time fans. While being nothing groundbreaking, Charity Starts at Home
doesn't seem to have any miscues, and it shows how mature Phonte has become, in his texts, in his delivery, and in his beat selection, and cements his place as one of the most complete artists in the Hip-Hop spectrum. The smartest move here is reuniting with 9th Wonder, who handles a third of the production duties, while the other beatmakers deliver typical 9th Wonder-esque beats, full of soulful melodies, laid-back drums and overall relaxing sound. This gives great cohesiveness to the album, which is only greater due to Phonte's ability to stay concentrated throughout the 12 tracks that compose Charity Starts at Home
. The end result is an album the couldn't be more representative of what Phonte is capable of, as an MC and as a singer.
"Dance in the Reign", with its hard-hitting beat and near-perfect flow from Phonte, starts off the album on a great note. It is perfect as an introduction, and sees Phonte explain how he feels about his current position in the rap game, what he wants to do, and where he wants to go. It kicks off a series of songs whose topics revolve around Phonte's views of the world. It all sound as genuine as one could hope, and one can definitely feel that Phonte has poured all his heart in each of the songs. The album is a great mix of songs about everything that races in Phonte's head : hip-hop, love, relationships, family, and every aspect of the life lead by his people. Throughout the album, all these topics are extremely well handled by Phonte, who seems to always find the flow that suits the song the best, and in the end never misses a step. Apart from the fact that it never seems to try and break new ground, which is perfectly fine given the album's aim of giving a panorama of everything that defines Phonte, Charity Starts at Home
doesn't seem to have any flaws. The choices made by Phonte while creating the album all seem well thought out and show how mature, as an artist and as a man, he is. You can definitely feel that he put a lot of time in the making of the album, as everything seems in place, his delivery always being on point and suiting the song's beat, topic, and atmosphere.
Similarly, the moments when Phonte chooses to display his singing abilities - which there are not many of on here - all seem perfectly chosen. "Ball and Chain", "To Be Yours", and "Gonna Be A Beautiful Night", the songs that most prominently feature singing by Phonte, are great cuts about love, and seem to perfectly suit the album's overall flow, offering a nice break from the rapping of the first half, and in turn leading to the devastating "We Go Off"-"The Life of Kings"-"Who Loves You More" trio. These three songs, with feature great contributions from underground masters and masters-to-be Pharoahe Monch, Evidence and Big K.R.I.T., close out the album in remarkable fashion. The features, while far from being the greatest aspect of the album, are well incorporated and don't distract the listener from the album's message and atmosphere.
The most satisfying element of Charity Starts at Home
is the timing of the release. The album feels like it is exactly what is needed in these days and times, as it offers a genuine, grassroot experience, which seems to encapsulate everything that hip-hop can bring to people in hard times like the ones we are currently experiencing. Whether you are a Phonte fan or not, I encourage you to check this album out, as you will surely be satisfied by what the rapper/singer brings to the table : precise, mature, soulful, and genuine songs, all executed to perfection. Don't expect to be taken to another place or to be transported to some progressive and complex musical landscapes, but expect a cohesive, perfectly executed, and very relatable piece of work, one you can chill or think to, relax or marvell to, and one that will never disappoint, make you skip a song, or doubt Phonte's motives and the energy he put into the making of his definite and defining album.