Not even a minute into Phonte’s debut album Charity Starts at Home, he’s already flipping rap clichés on their ear: “And I do this all for hip-hop/I’m lyin’ like shit/I do this shit for my goddamn mortgage.” Subtle lyrical devices such as this one in “Dance in the Reign” help make Phonte’s solo debut such a compelling piece of hip-hop.
It’s no secret that Phonte is gifted—something his work with groups Little Brother and The Foreign Exchange displays—but when striking it out on his own for this the first time, there was a question of whether or not he’d be able to offer something as powerful as his previous acts. Thankfully, Phonte has enlisted a solid line-up of producers, one of which is 9th Wonder, Little Brother’s famed producer. The four 9th Wonder-produced tracks recall why these two worked so well together in the first place. 9th Wonder is known for orchestrating throwback-style hip-hop, something that Phonte can expertly help bring to a new level.
Charity Starts at Home sees Phonte avoid the pitfalls that have been becoming all too common in modern hip-hop. At 12 tracks, the album doesn’t stretch on for too long, but it still moves in distinct directions. “Gonna Be a Beautiful Night,” produced by Symbolyc One, has an R&B backbeat that lends itself to Carlitta Durand’s soul singing. It’s moments such as this that show Phonte knows when to lay back and let his presence stay understated. Phonte doesn’t need to be the focal point of each track, and it is this understanding that allows songs to be truly effective.
With carefully selected producers behind him, Phonte is able to make his sharp lyrics shine.
Phonte is often introspective without over inflating his ego or coming down too hard on himself. It’s this delicate balance and pragmatic outlook that allow for Phonte to create verses that are totally genuine. “Sendin My Love” looks at relationships from a gendered perspective (“Man, I don’t fear much/But the thought of losin’ her hits me in the tear ducts/Too much honesty in here/Get earplugs”) as well as the influence of societal constructs (“Somethin’ in the way society rears us/Commitment weirds us out/It tears us apart”).
There are slight instances where Charity Starts at Home doesn’t hit as hard, but there is enough here to show that Phonte can stand on his own skills. It helps to have a solid team of producers and collaborators at one’s side, but Phonte is showing that he’s found ways to step out from a group dynamic and put himself out there. It’s a solid solo debut from a hip-hop veteran that shows he’s not lost an ounce of his honesty—even if the dynamics around him have changed.
Phonte – Charity Starts at Home tracklist:
- “Dance in the Reign”
- “The Good Fight”
- “Everything Is Falling Down”
- “Not Here Anymore”
- “Sendin My Love”
- “Ball and Chain”
- “To Be Yours”
- “Gonna Be a Beautiful Night”
- “We Go Off”
- “The Life of Kings”
- “Who Loves You More”