Phonte Has Made An Elite Album For The 99% Of Grown Hip-Hop Fans
It’s been more than six years since Phonte released his solo debut. Late 2012’s Charity Starts At Home was critically-acclaimed and seemed to indicate that Tigallo was on his way to creating a stellar solo catalog beyond his celebrated work with Little Brother and Foreign Exchange. It did not quite turn out that way though.
Sure, ‘Tay’s subsequently released two albums since via Foreign Exchange which were he and Nicolay’s most commercially successful to date, but if you ask the Greensboro, North Carolina native why it’s taken so long for him to release another solo Rap LP, he speaks to patience and process. During a recent interview with Billboard, Phonte says the seeds for songs on his brand new No News Is Good News album were planted years ago and revisited for completion as recently as last month. Mourning also played a factor.
“I lost my dad and my granddad in the same week. And then I lost my uncle on Thanksgiving day,” Phonte tells Andreas Hale. “We had a lot of deaths in Hip-Hop during that time as well. I turned the record in on Sunday, and then on Wednesday I get a call telling me that my aunt died. She died of cancer at 49. I’m like, ‘Dude, she’s only 10 years older than me. I’m 39.'”
Phonte addresses those issues and some of the realities facing many listeners on the album. JAY-Z seemed to broach rarely-rapped issues facing his age-group when he released 4:44 last year. That Grammy-nominated work addressed a host of interpersonal items, ranging from a public apology to his wife, his mother’s sexuality, and the dire need to save a family. However, while JAY-Z garnered praise for making a cohesive body of “grown-man Rap” for peers, there may be a chasm, simply from circumstance. Shawn Carter’s hustler-to-rapper-to-mogul narrative is specific to him. Marital seasons and family dynamics aside, few can relate to all of a billionaire’s therapeutic unpacking. This is a difference that plays out in Phonte’s world, as “The 99%” group is addressed head-on in a way that may be more relatable to the masses.
Phonte still positions himself as a member of the workaday crowd. He recorded this album during a break from his gig with Questlove Supreme. The MC’s relatable raps come from within that sphere. He does this especially well on the song “Expensive Genes” – a play on words title that has a very real message about the physical health struggles still plaguing his peers, especially in the Black community.
“I wish I that I could fit in these expensive genes,” he raps on the track. “A waistline that’ll rip the seams / And pharmaceuticals that sit between ya heart medicine / Cough medicine blood thinners and antihistamines / We got the ocean front view / But scope is so limited / ‘Cause young ni**as be dying of old ni**a sh*t / Wifey sleeping in the guest room ’cause you snore at night / It’s like 40 years old is 3/4 life / Our biggest fears were shots or armed robbery / Now the biggest fears are clots and oncology / Got a sleep app to tell you you got sleep apnea / He all in your sheets with a CPAP.”
In the Billboard interview, Phonte explains how his lyrical outlook has changed over the years, and life experience has a lot to do with it. “I don’t have that expectation of other MCs,” he says when asked by Hale about getting older and rapping accordingly. “I just want them to write where they are in their life right now. These are the things that are on my mind at 39, and I figured that I’d write about it. Fifteen years ago, crushing the wack MC was on my mind. The first 10 years of most rappers’ career is all about battling the wack MC, the guy that’s everywhere and nowhere at the same time. But once you get older, it’s about battling your cholesterol.”
Of course, Tigallo also doesn’t let his age get in the way of reminding people he is a competitive MC at heart. On the cut “So Help Me God,” he pounds his chest with bars:
“I am Hugh Masekela meets Masta Killa,” he spits. “Your O.G.’s O.G. just ask the ni**a / Audioslave with a mastermind / Any wall of sound Tigallo vandalize / Dog I am no tap dancer / Tip toeing audio lap dancer / Soundin’ like Rap cancer metastasized / It’s wrong it’s cruel it’s f*ckin’ infanticide.”
Phonte raps from the vantage point of a 39-year-old with Everyman problems. In good times and bad, people can relate to the Grammy-nominated MC/singer. While he addresses the 99% in a way that adds to an illustrious catalog, he remains a 1%er when it comes to the skills.
No News Is Good News features Freddie Gibbs and his Tigallerro cohort Eric Roberson. Both “So Help Me God” and “Expensive Genes” are on Ambrosia For Heads‘ curated, regularly-updated official playlist.