Best known for his excellent work with the group Little Brother and recently heard on a standout guest appearance off The Roots’ How I Got Over album, Phonte’s first solo effort, Charity Starts at Home, is a natural continuation of his previous work.
It’s a subgenre you could refer to as reality rap or hip-hop for adults. While the Jay-Zs and Kanyes of the world are comparing boat shoes and attending fashion shows in Paris, Phonte is more the MC next door.
On Charity Starts at Home, he rhymes about the difficulties of keeping a job (“The Good Fight”) and making a relationship work (“Sending My Love”, “Ball and Chain”). At the same time, Phonte’s raps are hardly pedestrian. The opening track “Dance In the Reign” finds the North Carolina native impressively reeling off one clever punch-line after another: “He said ‘Tay ‘I worry about you in the rap game’/I said, ‘Muthafucka go and get a real problem.”
The production is well-suited to Phonte’s flow throughout, including a couple tracks from former Little Brother producer 9th Wonder (“Not Here Anymore”, “Eternally.”) Much of the middle of the album has a decidedly R&B tinged feel, with Phonte, who has done some work as an singer (Percy Miracles), doing some of his own crooning on the brief “I’ll Be Yours.”
The softer stuff (“Gonna Be a Beautiful Night”) may very well turn off more hardcore hip-hop heads, but it goes along with the adult theme of the album. Appearances by Pharoahe Monch (“We Go Off”) and Evidence (“The Life of Kings”) bring it back to a more traditional hip-hop sound. “We Go Off” employs what’s become a cloyingly redundant sound, the sped up old school soul vocals, although it’s flipped in a somewhat creative way.
Charity Starts at Home never reaches any great heights, but doesn’t hit many lows either, making it all the more likely to hold up over multiple listens. What it lacks in arresting musical innovation, it makes up for by being refreshingly identifiable and honest.
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