Posts tagged Phonte
Phonte lets melody be medicine for malady with No News is Good News

My pops just died.

A stark opening sentence that mirrored my exact reaction when waking up to the news on the morning of Thursday, March 8, 2018. Millions of thoughts were racing through my mind on the final car ride to the hospital, but I could barely vocalize anything to anyone, including my distraught mother. Shitty son, I know. My emotions were fairly non-existent; comparatively speaking, blank sheets of loose leaf had more personality. The grieving process after the loss of a loved varies between individuals. On the spectrum of extreme rage and immense sadness, I could be found square in the middle under "apathetic indifference" for the first few days after his passing. Suppress and reject these feelings of pain until the event is not as fresh and hurts less, which is a horrible strategy by the way.

I'm extremely grateful for all of my family members, friends, and acquaintances that reached out to express their condolences and to give some advice. After a certain amount of text messages received, condolences started to feel like the "thoughts and prayers" autoreply by politicians, following another mass public shooting: appreciated but futile. Condolences aren't going to change the fact that literally one half of my being is gone. The man who has been in my life for 25 and a half years is no longer here in the physical sense. The more and more this thought cycled my brain, the more and more the truth of reality set. Commence the delayed depression phase.

I felt dejected and unmotivated to do much of anything related to optimism. I was really content with staying in a pit of sadness with a trash demeanor towards others. Slowly but surely, I started to climb out of the hole of despair using music as a sherpa, as it has done for me many times over the course of my life. Sitting with the right song, project, or discography after a traumatic life event is a powerful coping mechanism and a vastly healthier one as opposed to substance abuse. No News Is Good News by Phonte was that aide in the right direction by letting "melody be medicine for malady."

Clocking in at just under 35 minutes, NNIGN is a great all-around project that stripped away any semblance of unnecessary filler to deliver the lean and nutritious serving of food for thought. It's a short investment of time that'll yield a great wealth of knowledge in return. As it has been the case over his illustrious career, Phonte's entertaining witticisms double as subtle reminders to look in the mirror and take inventory of your life ("Thank your maker, stack your paper, with a real one, major key, clavinet // leave them other hoes on 'read/reed' like clarinets"). The most devote parishioners in the congregation of Pastor Tigallo have been patiently waiting for a couple years to hear the follow-up to his excellent 2011 solo debut Charity Starts At Home - a grown man album that explores the daily stressors and temptations of family life for everyday people through an unfiltered lens.

More of the same transparency can be found on his latest heartfelt effort, the timing of which couldn't have been more serendipitous to me. Having lost my father only 6 days after its release, I've found immense comfort in the relatability of the somber topics of the album. In several interviews since the release of NNIGN, Phonte talks about unrelenting major life events that threw his 2016 off-kilter, including the devastating loss of his own father and grandfather in the course of the same week. Juggling sudden changes in career and familial responsibilities, especially ones weighted so heavy, can force the most rigid of individuals to slightly bend. Moving on from and adjusting to all curveballs that life pitches to us is a part of the healing process.

To start off the album, Mr. Coleman erases any doubts of lost steps as a verbal assassin on the first three songs. "Your OG's OG, just ask the nigga" is a confident self-certification of a line that encompasses his entire demeanor on the Marco Polo-produced "So Help Me God." Among others, Soulection'sversatile beat conductor AbJo and fellow NC denizen Nottz, a very familiar face to Phonte, provided a soulful canvas for the 39-year old legend to elegantly paint vivid pictures of life from his purview. The lyrical sultan of staccato can effortlessly slide into the role of a crooner, further enhancing his merits of being a complete artist.

The untimely death of Hip-Hop legends Combat Jack, Prodigy, Phife from Tribe Called Quest have been even more focus on enlightening both black men and women on how to take better care of themselves

The above outro of the third track doubles as the introduction to the next stanza of the presentation, a 3-track sequencing that really took me out. "Expensive Genes" is a play on words with words not to play with. In the setting of a doctor’s office during a routine physical, Phonte speaks frankly about the hereditary ills that plague the Black man that only get exacerbated by poor diet. Lack of attention to health and personal care will inevitably cost more than a pair of Balmains in both senses of the word.

The inner monologue of the previous track leaks out in the subsequent audio, "Cry No More."  I've spun this album dozens of times since its release date, but the second verse of "Cry No More" impacted me in the most poignant of ways.

They ask me where I been, dog I been rebuilding
With my wiz and children, put my pops in the ground
Then hit the repast and ate the same shit that killed him
Your habits didn’t deviate, just thought you would appreciate

And Pops, my health is doin’ pretty good despite you
I try so I don’t die at 54 just like you

Seeing parallels in his honest testimony with the recent events that transpired in my own life struck a reflective chord. I felt a palpable connection with the words bled by Phonte's pen in regards to both my father and mother. I wasn't alone with my immediate internal commentary after my pops passed ("Looking over your life like 'what have I done' to it // Knowing your bloodline is the river that runs through it"). I wasn't alone with my wistful thoughts ("Starin' at my ceiling fan, tryin' to be a man // Wishin' I had a chance to be his son first"). I wasn't alone.

Watching your parents age is a fucking scary thought, no matter who you are. That lurking reminder of one's own mortality is a debilitating thought when it loops on a never-ending reel.  One segment, in particular, deserves the highest of praises for the wordplay alone but even more so for the sentiment:

That as young as you are, soon I’ll be takin’ care of you
I get it you’re the one who did the raising, I’m the son
But I’m not ready to cry at your Lorraine Hansberry-al

A month prior to my father passing, my mother was hospitalized for a week after she caught the flu AND pneumonia. The doctors said it could have been fatal if she didn't make it to the hospital as soon as she did. She already has an extensive list of medical ailments; needless to say, panic alarms started to go off internally. I thank God for her full recovery. For as grown as I may feel approaching my 26th year on this planet, nothing made me momentarily revert back to feeling like a child quicker than what happened to my parents over the past couple of months. Referring back to the previous stanza, we, if lucky enough, were raised to be strong independent people by one or either parent. You're never truly prepared to deal with your emotions once that unfortunate day reaches, though.

 

You can’t undo it you either succumb to it
Make the adjustment or just become numb to it

Grieving periods spent wallowing in the mire are expected. You gotta bounce the fuck back and get back on course. Surround yourself with family members and close friends. Celebrate the life instead of dwelling on the death. Wipe your tears, pull yourself out of that sinking hole and get back to being a contributing member of society. My dad was around my age when he made the journey from West Africa to the United States in pursuit of a better life for his family. He didn't have a blueprint on how to navigate a completely foreign land. Rather, he made adjustments on the fly and eventually found footing and established himself.

Growing up, the man was hard on me and set high expectations for what he felt was acceptable. At the time, I thought he was just being an asshole just because. As I got older, I realized he did this because it was the best way for him to convey this message: life's going to be hard but you can't be weak in the face of uncertainty and adversity.

I wish we had more time to speak man to man over a beer or two, but I still cherish those moments that we shared together. I'll take the values that you've instilled in me as I one day get ready for a family of my own. Nothing in life goes according to plan 100% of the time. I knew this day would come where I have to be the man of the family, remaining strong to not only support myself but to support my mother. It's a responsibility that I'm ready for - a product of great parenting.

You may be gone in the physical but you'll forever remain in my heart.

Rest In Paradise Dad. I love you.

Grown man raps: 4:44’s predecessors

We are now a few weeks removed from the one of the most prestigious awards that are handed out in entertainment. The 2018 GRAMMYs had fooled us into thinking this year's ceremony would be different from years past. With their nominations, the Recording Academy finally gave recognition to some of the lesser known music acts on a national scale. That hype was quickly dashed and short lived.

A similar tune of results was played as relatively safe picks won each major category without any notable upsets, just notable snubs. Snubs are to the award shows as loud irrational opinions are to a New York sports fan (guilty). A GRAMMY won't entirely make or break a career, but they're not completely worthless. Among the dozens of nominees in attendance that night, the most nominated artist came up trophy-less, in front of the world but more importantly, in front of his home turf. Brooklyn's Own JAY Z went 0 for 8 on January 28th, bringing home no hardware for transparent honesty on his most personal project to date, 4:44.

HOV's 13th studio album should not be remembered as just "the Lemonade response CD." While he does address the marital infidelity, there are many different grown ass topics the 48-year-old MC speaks on through the lens of a fully formed adult. "Kill JAY Z" was the first phrase to be uttered on 4:44, making way for Shawn Carter to enter with some commentary to impart wisdom and drop knowledge through the process for discovery of true self.

Putting aside the gaudy persona for a minute to openly speak about buried family secrets, fiscal responsibility, and the Black Community knowing and tapping into our valuable self-worth. Especially coming off the heals of his prior release, Magna Carta Holy Grail (Basquiat, Tom Ford, Basquiat again, etc.), 4:44 was an unexpectedly close and personal CD for a maturing legacy rapper. In the same vein as Denzel Washington's own passion project (Fences) at the Oscars, the critical acclaim was wide-spread, but the golden trophy was nowhere to be found for either legend.

A tweet came across my Timeline on that Sunday morning of the GRAMMYs. I agree with the last 3/4 of the message, but the opening sentence almost soured the entire point. Saying that rap "has never seen"  is a gross oversight. 4:44 deserves all the praise and accolades that it has been given, but the album is not a novel concept within the genre; 4:44 had predecessors.

Prime examples of recent predecessors were created by two of his worthiest peers in the pen game, the versatile assassin, Phonte Coleman and QB's Finest, Nasir Jones. Charity Starts at Home and Life is Good were released in a 10-month span in 2011 and 2012. Direct parallels can be drawn about the subject matter of lyrics on these 3 albums. For the most part, for the length of an entire project, the rappers spit some honest truththrough an unfiltered perspective about some grown man shit: family life as they age.

Age is not entirely indicative of increased wisdom, experience, and knowledge. Yes, it is worth noting that it's commendable for someone this late in their career, nearing the age of 50, made a mature pivot from their normalcy.

But different life circumstances could create different experiences that force people to pivot earlier, in different ways, at a different time in their adult life.

In September of 2011, Phonte was only 32 years old when he made Charity Starts at Home, but he was a man with a family of his own and decade-plus of the music industry under his belt. Ever since the early days as a college student in North Carolina with Little Brother, Tigallo had always presented himself as an old soul with his raps filled with observational bars about the humor in life. He's kept things real with is wisecracks and advice about the good and bad that this life has to bring, mixed in with innocuous jokes to lighten the mood.

About a decade after his main crew's inception and a little less after the official start of his RnB campaign, Phonte branched off to do a solo hip-hop record of his own, the very first of his respected career. The focus of his observational bars was drawn inward, this time zooming in on the 3rd stanza of life: the navigation of relationships in your 30s as you creep towards middle age. Charity Starts at Home was an introspective look at the start of adulthood.

Not "I just graduated college and now I split rent with 7 roommates" adulthood, but "dawg, I started a family with the person I love, doing work in a career I hate, but mortgage payment is due in a week" type adulthood.

When you wake up this morningI want you to go to the mirrorAnd I want you to look at yourself in the eyes and sayFuck you, fuck your hopes, fuck your dreams, fuck all the good you thought this life was 'gon bring youNow lets got out there and make this bitch happy

Everybody prays for the day they see the lightBut the light at the end of the tunnel is a train
5 dollar gas, and poverty rates, are rising much higher than your hourly ratesSo if you thinkin 'bout quittin you should probably waitCuz everybody gotta do a fuckin job that they hate - Phonte, "The Good Fight"

Phonte stayed par for the course by knocking another joint out of the park but the mid-career pivot came from a wise and mature mindset that's again not solely indicative of age. Highly relatable lyrics about grindin' and hustlin' legally can put the listener in his shoes for the length of the project. Everyday adult shit gets touched on, from not wanting to wake up for work on a Monday to mending relationships before and while things may be falling apart.

In the hilarious, yet poignant outro of "Sending My Love," from a place of sincerity, he speaks about beating down the strong urges of cheating on his significant other, an extremely human feeling that circles the mind of anyone, even in the most committed of relationships. "C'mon, Tigallo, Be Strong!" becomes the mantra of the moment with the following inner monologue:

I know she get on your nerves sometimes
But man, you got a good woman at home, man
Just go home, it-it-it's 'bout 4:30
Ain'tnothin open this time of night but legs and hospitals
Just go home, just take it on home
Martin Luther King did not die for niggas to be trickin off on HOES, nigga
Just, just take it home (all my love to you) - Phonte, "Sending My Love"

Important topics and life lessons dealing with family were discussed on Charity Starts at Home. Phonte briefly puts down the cloak of a rap superhero, opened up the door to his home, and showed the general public how not easy it is to not only create a family but how difficult it is to keep the core of the nucleus intact.  On the most basic level, it requires honest work and honest communication.

One of the main complaints from critics of 4:44 say the praise for the lifestyle and family advice was not life altering or super impactful. I disagree. With these kinds of projects, they're not supposed to be thesis papers using scientific data to reinvent the wheel. They offer a different side of rappers who share family principles that aren't a secret but serve as important reminders from time to time.

Storytelling has always been a major staple in the career of Nas. In his Book of Rhymes, Nas' "pen taps the paper" to create some vivid and detailed imagery from a pure lyricist standpoint. Life is Good, the 11th studio album by the Queens native, shares more career and biographic similarities with the creator of 4:44, but the content strongly remains comparable to Charity Starts at Home as well. Like Phonte, Nas was under 40 years old when creating his album, but the then-39-year-old had already lived out a full career at this point. 2 decades after his first official recording, with 2 children and 1 nasty divorce that still affects him to this day, Nas had experienced a great deal of triumph and adversity.

The heavily produced No I.D. and Salaam Remi project has an equally somber and rejuvenated balance to it both sonically and lyrically. Nas sounds energetic, refreshed and youthful. Aside from a few musical and topical misfires (*coughs in "Summer on Smash"*), Life is Good has a throwback sound in many spots on the album like genuinely upbeat tracks that captures the bounce of mid-90s NYC (i.e. "Reach Out" featuring Mary J. Blige). On the surface, Life is Good is a project that mixes old-school ideas with new school sensibilities as an older, matured individual. Nas, very transparently, shares details about having to deal with two dilemmas with two important women in his life: disciplining his teenage daughter and a divorce from his ex-wife, Kelis.

On "Daughters," an adult is facing a rewarding, yet terrifying time in the life of a father: the baby steps into the early stages into their child's adulthood. Nas created this song to speak directly to men out there that are also going through this father/daughter relationship. Not necessarily to the extent below, but he openly discusses potential hypocrisies that he notices from himself while trying to give the best possible advice to his daughter to make sure she lives her best possible life.

I saw my daughter send a letter to some boy her ageWho locked up, first I regretted it, then caught my rageLike, how could I not protect her from this awful phase?
Never tried to hide who I was, she was taught and raisedLike a princess, but while I'm on stage I can't leave her defenselessPlus she's seen me switchin' women, Pops was on some pimp shitShe heard stories of her daddy thuggin'
So if her husband is a gangster, can't be mad, I'll love him
Never, for her I want better, homie in jail – dead thatWait 'til he come home, you can see where his head's at - Nas, "Daughters"

Growth and self-awareness all come with time. Failures in life happen very often, but what you do with the detriment is key to success. Dwelling on something negative and not learning from the mistake or minor setback can leave you stuck.  Whether you're going through a messy divorce or relationship problems, having trouble with how you fit in with new-aged people in your profession or the "chinks in the armor" is becoming more noticeable to the kids, life is going to throw you a curveball.

"No matter what, Life is Good" was repeated several times throughout the project. It's a simple and effective phrase that could be a subtle reminder during a rocky time.

Again, I don't believe the original tweet was completely off-base, just a bit heavy-handed when saying "the rap genre has NEVER seen an album like 4:44." We have seen the introspective, late career, soul music influenced, rap album that was critically praised. Charity Starts at Home and Life is Good are two high-quality examples of that from this past decade. This piece is not a subjective discussion about which grown man project was better. It's an objective reminder that 4:44 had predecessors.

Because hip-hop, comparatively speaking, is a newer genre in the grand scheme of things. We haven't seen all of the most popular stars reach the pantheon of JAY Z and Nas (with Phonte on the precipice). We don't have a Stevie Wonder...yet. We don't have a Mick Jagger...yet. Is the introspective rap trend from the game's legends the next trend? The next decade or so will be a telling factor on whether or not more of the critically acclaimed and legendary lyricists from the 90s will adopt the same model of being extremely honest and open about daily stressors for the length of an entire project. Fingers crossed for an Andre 3000 joint executively produced by Organized Noize.