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on September 29, 2011
"Classic" is a word that is thrown around by hip hop fans pretty often these days in refference to their favorite artists. That being said, I personaly chose to refrain from using the word unless I deem it absolutely appropriate to do so. With the long awaited debute from Phonte, Charity Starts At Home, I do believe that the world has been given a genuine, unblemished CLASSIC.

To me, a "Classic" album required two things: 1) You must be able to listen to it from start to finish without wanting to hit the skip button. 2)The content and lyrics of the songs must be timeless. In my opinion, Phonte manages to satisfy both of these requirements with flying colors.

Basically, this album has three types of songs on it. The first type is the standard braggadocious, lyrical muscle flexing rap that you'll hear from any rapper at some point, the second type is personal songs that give you insight on his life thus far. And man are they personal. the third type are the Foreign Exchange-y love songs. The braggy type songs, like "Dance In The Reign" "Not Here Anymore" "Everything Is Falling Down" "Eternally" and "We Go Off" allow Phonte to display his masterful manipulation of the english language, throwing together metaphors and double meanings that will have you sitting on the rewind button, while also maintaining that air of maturity in his lyrics which is rare to see in most rappers these days. Also in regards to these songs, three of the four of them have features, all of which are excellent choices for the songs they are on. The single, "Not Here Anymore" which features long time affiliate Elzi, is nothing short of a classic in itself.

The other eight songs on the album are all intimate glimpses into Phonte's life and his current mindset. He spends a good amount of time on the topics of relationships, implying he has some serious marital issues going on at the moment. "Sending My Love" talks about how difficult it is to maintain a solid committed relationship in light of the temptations out in the world, summing it all up well with the line "People want what grandma and gradndaddy had/ but they aint have options, we do." On the song "Ball & Chain" Phonte sings about how the woman he loves has become a gift and a curse, keeping him held down and weighing him down all at once. It truly does strike a personal chord for anyone who is married or in a long term relationship, because he's speaking so much truth in it. The chorus of the song is perfect, especially the last lines "So many nights I wish I knew the moment when/ your anchor turned into a ball and chain." Phonte touches on other topics like struggling to provide for a family, reflecting on his turbulent experience in the blue collar working world, and struggles with his and others priorities in life.

And fans of Foreign Exchange, fears not, because Tiggalo has something for you as well. "To Be Yours" and "Gonna Be A Beautiful Night" are fantastic love song tracks (the former is an intro to the latter), smooth and pleasing to the ear in classic Foreign Exchange style, with a feature from Muhsinah.

If I were to find any flaws with this album, it would be that it felt too short. Twelve tracks for an album is a decent amount, but the listening experience is so good that you just don't want it to end at 43 minutes (its about that long). The production is top notch, especially the contributions from 9th Wonder and Nicolay, the lyrics are always on point, and even the whole concept of the album is brought right to the surface for you at the end of the album in case you hadn't already caught onto it. Easily one of the best albums to come out in the last 10 years. 20/5!

Personal Favorites:

Life OF Kings
Ball & Chain
Send MY Love
Not Here Anymore
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on September 30, 2011
Determining what makes a rapper great can be difficult. It's always a moving target, and very few people have bothered to show their work. That said, I'm going to pull my soapbox out of the basement and state, unequivocally, that Phonte is one of the greats. His style is accessible but not juvenile (the rapper or meaning child-like). He's extremely versatile, with an uncanny natural rhythm regardless of the beat provided. His catalog has the depth of an extreme workaholic coupled with a level of quality that shows virtually no wear and tear on his craft. His vocabulary exposes an extremely prevalent intelligence. Most importantly, however: he raps about the things I care about at an extremely proficient level and in an engaging way.

His long-awaited debut album, "Charity Starts At Home", is ridiculously earnest: the things he sings about with Foreign Exchange are the things he raps about, and vice versa. While there is a LOT of Phonte out there, you are always getting Phonte as he IS. And if you go back over his catalog and note how some stances may have been different from phase to phase, these are not signs of hypocrisy...they are signs of growth. It is as if Phonte is incapable of a musical lie. If only every artist were as honest while not turning it into a corny refrain.

We are in no danger of that with this album. I'll answer the most asked question right out the gate: this is essentially a rap record. While there is a song on which Phonte ONLY sings ("To Be Yours") and two others on which he sings and does his own guest rapping ("Ball and Chain" and "Gonna Be A Beautiful Night"), that's about it out of a twelve-song set. This is not to say that if you only know him from fronting The Foreign Exchange you won't dig this album (hey, those people exist. I've met them). I think it will depend on what your relationship with rap is in general. As someone who has listened to rap since it came out and thinks a lot of the stuff that makes it to the radio is garbage, Phonte hits me right where I am: his lyrics show a real grappling with "grown folks business". While the beats largely accomplish everything I need all good rap beats to do - move, bounce, growl, snap, make my car shake on the way to work - it is Phonte's verbal wrestling with relationships, trying people, business matters and his own emotions that separate him from virtually the entire field of rappers currently working. It is thought-provoking, sincere and probably the most honest rap record in recent memory.

Standout tracks are "The Good Fight" (a great song to drive to work to and the coffee ain't gettin' it); "Sendin' My Love", "Not Here Anymore" (9th Wonder's sickest offering here as producer); "Gonna Be a Beautiful Night"; "We Go Off" (my FAVORITE song on this album, featuring Pharoahe Monch); and "Who Loves You More" (my second favorite song on this album). I want to point out that I just picked six songs - half the album - as STANDOUT tracks, meaning tracks that, as far as I'm concerned, anyone would like who has any musical palette whatsoever. Consider that more than a ringing endorsement...consider it a mandatory purchase.
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on September 27, 2011
Phonte's solo album is nothing less than classic. I was expecting it to love it immediately and I did. It'll be in constant rotation at my house.
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on October 18, 2011
After Little Brother's "Curtain Call" and the r&b flavor of Authenticity, I was definitely curious to see what Phonte's next move would be. Then I began to hear word that Phonte would be making a solo album and that him and 9th Wonder had reconciled and they would be doing some work together on Phonte's solo debut album. I figured that I would hear an equal balance between what Phonte did with Little Brother and what he has done on the 3 Foreign Exchange albums. Surprisingly, with a few exceptions, Phonte sticks to rhyming. "Charity Starts At Home" gets off to a good start with "Dance In The Reign". Phonte sets the stage for what you should come to expect from the entire CD. You still get r&b hooks on some songs but the theme of the CD has Phonte displaying the fact that he can still rhyme with the best of them. Another reason why I can identify with what Phonte is talking about, because he is talking about what the man in their late 20s to mid 30s is dealing with in their everyday lives. This is definitely clear on my favorite track, "The Good Fight". I'm pretty sure a lot of folks have had days where they have come to work expecting to try to just get through their day and they end up hearing that the job plans to let people go soon or make some sort of drastic change to what they would normally do at work. Then once you hear that, you get this thought in your head of what you might or might not do and Phonte explains that in his own words. "Everything Is Falling Down" has Phonte concentrating on the witty wordplay that we have come to know from him. This is clearly the best that I have heard him rhyming since "The Minstrel Show", with the exception being "Tigallo For Dolo" from Little Brother's final CD, "Leftback". 9th Wonder samples the infamous Rose Royce song "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" on "Not Here Anymore", which also features Elzhi. Elzhi, who is/isn't a member of Slum Village, depending on who you ask, joined Little Brother on one of my favorite LB tracks "Hiding Place" from "The Minstrel Show". This ends up being one of my favorite tracks on "Charity Starts At Home". Median joins Phonte on "Eternally" which has Phonte saying "picturing 'Te without bars is like seeing a dark skinned DeBarge"....lol Phonte and Median go back and forth on the track and hearing this song has me interested in checking out Median's "The Sender", which was also released this year. "Sendin' My Love" is what we have come to expect from a Foreign Exchange song these days. Phonte is able to talk about a situation where he just needed a distraction from what usually goes on in a relationship and has him debating whether or not to do the right thing when he meets another woman. He states at the beginning of the track: "I know single men who would kill for a home cooked meal and I know married men who would kill for a quiet house." The quality and content of the song can be summed up in that sentence. "Ball & Chain" also sounds like a song that could be on a Foreign Exchange album. He starts the track by singing and still includes a rap verse as well. "To Be Yours" is more of an interlude that is the only track that has Phonte singing on the entire song. "Gonna Be A Beautiful Night" features Carlitta Durand, who has been on Little Brother tracks such as "Sirens" & "After The Party" from "Getback" and "Time Of Your Life" from the "....And Justus For All" mixtape. The track has Phonte singing along with Carlitta Durand and Phonte includes a rap verse on the track as well. "We Go Off" features Pharoahe Monch, who released W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) in March of 2011. The song is short in length but both Phonte & Pharoahe Monch deliver 2 nice verses and this also ends up being one of my favorite tracks on the album. "The Life Of Kings" is produced by 9th Wonder and features Evidence, who just released his latest solo album, Cats & Dogs and Big K.R.I.T. who released one of my favorite songs of this year, "The Vent". The 3 MCs deliver nice verses on the track and while this wouldn't have been 3 people that most rap fans would have put together for a collaboration, things still end up working out. "Who Loves You More" features Eric Roberson and closes out "Charity Starts At Home" on a good note. The 2 also pair up together on Eric Roberson's track, "Picture Perfect".

Overall, if you ever expected Phonte to release a solo hip hop album, I feel he has exceeded expectations and then some. Obviously, there would be a Foreign Exchange element to the album, but in my opinion, that doesn't take anything away from how good this album is. If you ever were a fan of Little Brother or Foreign Exchange, I strongly recommend that you pick up "Charity Starts At Home". It's that good.

James' Top 5

1) The Good Fight
2) Not Here Anymore w/Elzhi
3) We Go Off w/Pharoahe Monch
4) Who Loves You More w/Eric Roberson
5) The Life Of Kings w/Evidence & Big K.R.I.T.
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on October 1, 2011
Basically this album is Phonte spittin' some hot verses over some hot tracks. He gets some fellow Hip Hop professionals who are in his weight class(Pharoahe Monch,Median..etc..)to come along and they spit fire as well! In between all this, there are numerous appearances from Percy Miracles(inside joke!) who basically spits er...sings ballads and hooks that makes the album a complete inferno!! The standout tracks in my opinion are tracks 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12! Only disappointment is no Big Pooh appearance. Peace.
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on October 25, 2011
I can't even front...I call myself a true hip hop fan but never heard of Little Brother until listening to Charity. I guess its that east coast bias. After reading blogs I realized I had to broaden my horizons. Well thanks to those peoples I discovered Kendrick Lamar, 9th Wonder and Phonte which happen to be three of my 4 best albums of the year. Go figure... none are from NY. If you are from the old school and tired of the gimmicky music out now then buy this album. You wont be disappointed.
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on November 5, 2011
From the moment the hip hop group Little Brother arrived on the music scene in 2003, they made a lasting impression on the world of underground hip hop. Critics and fans alike raved about the production of 9th Wonder and the lyrical prowess of Rapper Big Pooh and Phonte. While the positive affirmations were good, it wasn't enough to get the trio mainstream recognition...much less keep them together. Between botched deals with a major label, the departure of a group member and their subsequent split, it seemed Little Brother's star burned out before it got a chance to shine. Aside from his group, Phonte did a side project called The Foreign Exchange- which later became a showcase for his talents as a singer and songwriter. When he was juggling both endeavors, fans anticipated hearing a solo track from him. The trouble was there always was a downside to Phonte's solo records. On two songs on "The Listening"- specifically "Nighttime Maneuvers" and "Home"- the songs were brief and amounted to being little more than a repetitive hook. On "The Minstrel Show", he did the song "Cheatin'" which parodied R. Kelly's songwriting and production work with The Isley Brothers. Finally, on Little Brother's swan song "Leftback", fans finally got the solo rap track from Phonte- only to hear him opine about wanting to ditch hip hop for R&B due to The Foreign Exchange getting more exposure and a Grammy nomination for their 2008 song "Daykeeper". A few years later, he announced the arrival of his solo debut "Charity Starts At Home".

What makes Phonte stand out as an artist is his ability to tell stories and his nuggets of wisdom contained in his songs. A 'wise beyond his years' perspective that became a recurring theme on his group and side projects- and the theme continues on his solo effort. Look no further than the song "The Good Fight" which explores a subject similar to De La Soul's song "The Grind Date"- working a job that one hates, but knows that bills need to be paid. On "Sendin' My Love" he reconsiders the possibility of commiting infidelity after a heated quarrel with his wife and deals with stress on "Everything Is Falling Down". While he raps on most of the album, there are a few songs in which he does sing- such as "Ball And Chain" where Phonte deals with a moody significant other, the short jazz-influenced "To Be Yours" and "Gonna Be A Beautiful Night"- a romantic duet with singer Carlitta Durand (who previously appeared on Little Brother's 2007 album "Getback"). However, the album's biggest surprise is his reunion with producer and fellow former Little Brother member 9th Wonder, who produces four songs on the album- including the aforementioned "The Good Fight" and the first single "Not Here Anymore". Phonte closes out with "Who Loves You More", a song which explores how a bad decision can affect relationships between family and romantic partners. "Charity Starts At Home" is best described as a mature hip hop album that would go over well for those who are well into their adult years. Once again, Phonte makes another great record in his nearly decade long career in hip hop.
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on October 30, 2011
I have been a fan of Little Brother since a friend of mine first told me about the group so it is only right that I followed the individual efforts of the three members, Phonte, Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder. Phonte has always been the standout emcee. From his clever word play to his soulful voice, I have been a huge fan, so I was excited to hear that his solo project was being released.

I went into this album expecting Little Brother type production with a splash of Foreign Exchange flare. I was not disappointed. This album is solid from beginning to end. I was initially introduced to the album by way of the first internet leaked song featuring former Slum Village artist Elzhi entitled Not Here Anymore. Over a beautifully chopped sample of the Rose Royce classic "Love Don't Live Here Anymore", Phonte and Elzhi deliver exquisite bars.

Though the album is solid from top to bottom, my personal favorite is the introspective and easy to relate to "Who Loves You More". The first time that I heard it, I probably repeated it some 15 times in a row because I was overwhelmed by the quality and the sincerity of the words he spoke towards the end of the song. This song invokes thoughts of regrets, questioning your place in life, and just morals in general. This song is hip-hop; the emotion, the content, the flow, and the clarity. Once you add a nice sound scape and Eric Roberson to the equation, you have a winner in my books.

Though the first week sales did not correctly to the story that is "Charity Starts At Home", this is a worthwhile purchase so do not be fooled by things that do not matter such as radio spins and sales, this is GOOD MUSIC!
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on October 13, 2011
I wasn't expecting this from Phonte. A lot of times when groups split and the artist have to carry an entire album alone there's always something missing. This album is the exception to the rule. Phonte's lyrics and subject matter are right on point. This is what you've been waiting for if you've been wanting something that reminds you of the good days in hip hop but it's relative for today's listener. Honesty and insight into an MC's real life is not often put on wax but when MC's are brave enough to give you the "real" it's always all good. This is how fans relate and when I hear Phonte speak on his marriage, his struggles and his life it's like he's speaking some of my life in his lyrics. It's like the therapy I use to get from listening to groups from back in the day. If you were born in the 70's this is a must have for you . If you were born after the 70's this is still a must have because this is one of your generations classic album. Get this dope album!!
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on December 1, 2011
For the life of me, when are radio stations and rap video programs going to catch on that music from artists like Phonte should be in heavy rotation? This is the type of music I want my children listening to. Not that bubble gum, fake hustler, fake gangsta, fake sex god bull crap that plagues our kids' ears today. Phonte can out rap punk ass rappers like Lil Wayne, Drake, and the rest of the circus clowns from the Dirty South whose ignorant songs seem to be the flavor of the year.

Charity Starts at Home is one of the best albums, hip hop or not, that is out today. Phonte is a skilled lyricist who ranks up there with the likes of Nas, KRS ONE and Scarface. You actually learn something positive from these guys, and with Phonte focusing many of his songs on Black Love, which is heavily in need of promotion, he continues to prove that record sales is not his motivation for making music.

GET THIS ALBUM!!

The Magnanimous.
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