Phonte Coleman's First Solo Album. S'bout time.
I’mma say it right now, so ya’ll won’t accuse me of it. I’m biased. I’m more biased than Fox News right about now. I’ve been DUMB geeked about this album since LeftBack dropped, because in all honesty, that whole thing saddened me. Little Brother breaking up, Phonte’s beef with 9th Wondra, all that. It was a sad state of affairs. But I stayed optimistic. Against common sense, I was hopeful. Yeah, beefs in hip-hop tend to last a bit longer than a certain starlet’s marriage (too soon?), but I wanted to believe in it.
Then…birds started singing. The sun shone brighter than ever before. The squabble between Tigallo and Ninth had settled! And Phonte declared his plans for an actual solo album! With rhyming on it! With some production by Mr. Douthit! Phonte had already demolished any claims of a possibility of a LB reunion, and I actually believe him, but danged if a ninja can’t dream, especially in the light of all of this goodness that had happened.
Phontigallo, The Rap Gigalo
And that was a few months ago. Folks tastes has gotten over the newness of the situation. Newer albums have dropped. The honeymoon stage is over, and the stuff that determines whether an album has actual longevity is brought to light. Hence my review being written some months after CSAH has dropped. That, and the fact that I just…plain…forgot.
I’ve written up personal reviews and thoughts for music albums before, for Jay-Z and Kanye’s “Watch the Throne” and Little Brother’s “LeftBack“. What I usually do is break down each song, or basically vent about the general feel of the album. But this time, with an album that I’ve looked forward to as much as CSAH, I want to analyze it differently. There are some aspects of an album that engages its replayability – at least for me. And yes, I made that word up. Do something ’bout it.
- Lyrical Creativity and Flow
- Verbal Skill
- Personal Relevance & Honesty
Lyrical Creativity and Flow – For as long as he’s been in the game, Phonte has always possessed a certain enviable gift. Not that no one else is talented. I’m not even going to start that debate. But I’m sure that we can agree that he’s nice on the mic. Now, for me to start to care about an artist, I have to believe that their flow is one that I can vibe with, one that complements their style, one that isn’t manufactured or processed by label heads and whatnot. That, and there’s something that they may have that is undefinable. Something that, if you tried to define it, you’d eventually just shrug and say, “The boy is just nice.” And you’d be right, and no one could tell you different. Fortunately, I’m familiar with Phonte’s particular style from his days as Percy Miracles and Reverend Tay D. Jakes with Big Pooh and 9th Wonder on Little Brother. And he’s been nice since then. To my knowledge, he’s never had a bad verse. He’s had highs, and he’s had moments when he was obviously coasting, doing the speed limit. But as far as I know, he’s never had a verse like Jay’s on Ludacris’ “I Do It For Hip-Hop”. And I’m not going to supply a link to that crapfest of a song. That’d be like giving a recovering alcoholic directions to the nearest ABC store.
As far as CSAH goes, Tay’s flow is a controlled substance. Throughout the whole project, he sounds confident and in control. Not being taken over by the beat, or bested by the guests he had (from Pharoahe Monch to Elzhi), Phonte knows exactly what he’s doing and where he wants to go. I feel that it’s a feeling that he hasn’t felt in a while. Never one for recycling rhymes, swagger-jacking or resorting to cheap punchlines (like the recent trend of stating the actual noun after two bars of analogies -> “I go hard…concrete.”), Phonte maintains the ability to masterfully craft verses with the ease of…oh, wait. An artist.
Verbal Skill – Brother is nice with the homonyms. I be like, “Dang, when that man ‘Tay gone rhyme again.” (Five points if you know what song that was from.) Nah, but forreal. This brother manages to wield poetry and verbosity in such a way that has been missing from the airwaves in a major way. Once again, not to discredit folks that have been putting in work. Alls I’m saying is, for his solo effort, there are no lines wasted. Purposeful with each bar, he assists his lyrical ability with actual content that was done on purpose.
Production – Naturally, knowing that Mr. Coleman and Mr. Douthit are working together in SOME capacity gets fans like me a little excited – and a little worried. Excited, because since being familiar with the LB style that earned them most of their notoriety, I wanted to know if the years had been kind to them, especially after their reconciliation. Worried, because I didn’t want to find out that they might have lost it. Either that, or maybe they would have tried to hard to duplicate something that used to be so effortless and natural. Fortunately, my worries were laid to rest. ‘Tay and Ninth do the dang thang on the few tracks that they had together. And I think it was a good call to not have 9th Wonder produce the entire album, or have any one producer solely handle the album’s production. Not that it wouldn’t have been dope; au contraire, I believe that it would have been stellar. Fellow rapper Common puts out his BEST work (in my opinion) when one producer handles the lion’s share of the production. But the difference between the two artists is that Phonte is incredibly diverse, donning the fedora and the fitted. With this being his first solo venture, exercising his muscle on a variety of styles, production by folks like Khrysis, S1, Zo and others helped. He showed that more than being able to hop on almost any kind of beat, he was able to tie in a project all together, dang near seamlessly.
Personal Relevance & Honesty – Probably the most important element that I consider when picking an album to buy or play in my car, I try to decide how relevant it is in my own life. For example, a few months ago, I had a copy of Biggie’s Ready to Die. Considered a classic and a must-have in almost every hip-hop circle, I thought that if nothing certified me as a hip-hop head, owning this album certainly did. I mean, come on. The debut album of one of the dopest emcees to ever step behind the microphone? I should consider it an honor to even own it, right? Well, after picking it up again to listen to it rather recently, I learned something that I’m not sure a lot of people pay attention to.
I couldn’t relate to Christopher Wallace.
Oh, sure, there were some facts that I could sympathize with, even agree with (almost). Tryna stick me for my paper? Not the most thrilling sequence of events. Letting my tape rock ’til my tape pop? Of course, ya’ll know I love music. But save a few more lines like that, I honestly couldn’t say that I knew where he was coming from. We were from two completely different worlds. This didn’t keep me from appreciating his undeniable talent, but was I really going to play this album again? Why would I? I’m in grad school. I’ve got a rather consistent job. I know where both of my parents are. My life is a complete contrast to the life he was describing. I couldn’t relate.
Or even another contrast. Linkin Park. In high school, I loved this group. Oh, the angst, the frustration, the screaming and lamenting about being overlooked and underrated – their album “Hybrid Theory” was my creed. I played that album, almost as much as I played Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous”, which, if you know me, was a lot. But nowadays, I look back at that kid and wonder…was it really that serious? I couldn’t imagine seriously listening to that album the same way now, because I’m a completely different person now.
In CSAH, Phonte hits on more than a few issues that I didn’t have that problem with. I related. I felt him. Like…really felt where he was coming from. Because right now, that’s where I am at. I am in a period of transition, learning more and more about myself and the world around me. Until I transcend to an area of life where the things he’s speaking about on this album, it’ll earn it’s replayability based heavily on how I can relate to it.
Which is where I believe much of the criticism from this album would come from. I believe Phonte’s coming from a real place with this project. Issues like maintaining in your marriage, working a job versus doing what you love, feeling confident in what you’re doing, regardless of the challenges and naysayers – that’s where he’s at. And if he sounds negative or grumpy, take into consideration all of what he’s saying now and what he’s been saying and what’s being said around him. In the sea of hip-hop, there are chants of ridiculous wealth and folks sitting on self-appointed thrones, and here comes this guy from North Carolina saying stuff like, “I done seen the world, and if you ever see it, you wouldn’t want it either.”
A heavy dose of realism, packaged in 12 tracks, against a tide of ridiculousness that I personally can NOT relate to. Sorry Kanye.
So, that’s my two cents. Yeah, it’s late. Whatever. I been busy.
EXTRA: Because I love all 3 of my readers, I figured I throw up a little gem I recently re-found. Not many people know about Phonte before LB. Him and then-producer Eccentric put together a really bad, really funny “comedy” album as two broke ninjas in search of a record deal. Real talk, this was the most hilarious waste of time that I’ve ever spent. And I lay the link to this hilarity with you. Because sharing is caring.
Phonte and Eccentric: The Story of U.S. - http://www.megaupload.com/?d=BDSL4LIR