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 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.
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:
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.
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.