“Yo I ain’t never heard a act to blow and go global
Then come back home and still be called local.”
When the title of Phonte’s debut solo album Charity Starts at Home was announced, his lines from “Not Enough,” my favorite Minstrel Show track, immediately came to mind. Phonte has a litany of reasons to be bitter at the music industry off his Minstrel Show experiences alone, from BET refusing to air “Lovin’ It” for being “too intelligent” to the lack of promotion the album received from Atlantic Records. The most disheartening aspect, however , is that Phonte felt there was a lack of support from the hometown crowd, and with total sales just above 100K, there’s legitimate beef. Just as the NBA players are currently locked out by the team owners, the rap industry locks out tons of talent. And just as the NBA players take their talents to Europe, underground rap stars make up for dismal album sales revenue by hitting the European tour circuit.
Phonte’s blue -collar, disaffected everyman appeal shines throughout Charity Starts at Home. “The Good Fight” illustrates his frustration that being an underground champion just doesn’t pay what he feels it should.
“Fam in my ear all day and they yellin’
“Keep it real, Te'”, and don’t ever sell out
But how the fuck you sell out when ain’t nobody sellin’?
Tired of playing with y’all, I wanna fight the good fight
But it ain’t payin me, dogg.”
Charity Starts at Home isn’t a pity-party though, as Phonte flaunts his English degree with quotable after quotable backing up his claim to be the underground king. “Dance in the Reign” alone gives us “Flow hair-raising, it’s like rabbit farming” and “I’m on that separate excrement, yeah that other shit.”
The reunion of Elzhi, 9th Wonder, and Phonte on “Not Here Anymore” is a perfect storm of 9th flipping the classic Rose Royce “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” for Elzhi and Phonte to go bananas over. Phonte gives a hot one-liner jab (“He body the alphabet, so bury me a G,”) to set up the eventual flurry of:
“I’m the courier, carrying the word that with these verbs
That n**** Phonte’s a little murderous
See a little nervousness, and a frown cause you know deep down
You ain’t nice, just a little courteous.”
Just as people grumble about André 3000 and his singing, Phonte has faced the same for his forays into the softer side of urban music. Phonte slides a block of R&B into the middle of the album before bringing it home with guests Pharoahe Monch, Big K.R.I.T., and Evidence. Even if you don’t listen to Phonte for his singing, the tracks are digestible thanks to the production of S1, Zo!, and Swiff D (seriously, listening to Phonte for his singing is like reading Playboy for the articles).
Charity Starts at Home is Phonte pleading his case about why you should buy this album, and if you’re from North Carolina, why you should REALLY buy this album. In football, when a rookie running back ends up leading the league in rushing, it’s fair to say he outperformed his $500K contract and he’s justified in asking for a substantial raise. In Phonte’s case, he’s outperformed his contract with hip-hop by putting out a ton of stellar material with Little Brother and Foreign Exchange, but still can’t seem to move units. It’s the predicament that the vast majority of underground rappers are in, but almost none have made music as good as Phonte’s. In these troubled economic times, Charity Starts at Home sounds like one of the few smart investments out there.[audio:http://potholesinmyblog.flywheelsites.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Phonte-Not-Here-Anymore-ft.-Elzhi.mp3|titles=Phonte – “Not Here Anymore” ft. Elzhi]