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Discography Check: Phonte

By @TrueGodImmortal

Phonte is one of the greatest rappers to pick up a microphone. That might surprise you, but it's true. With his knack for reality rhymes and honest lyricism, Phonte is one of my personal favorites and a legend in his own right. What some might not realize is that his discography is extensive and features a number of classics and top notch releases. With his newest solo album dropping, I wanted to take a look at his catalog and see how all of the albums hold up. Let's take a look.

*Little Brother- The Listening (2003)

-We just discussed this album on the 9th Wonder article, so I won't go too into detail about it, but the arrival of Phonte (alongside Big Pooh) comes with some amazing sounds. The production is soulful boom bap done to perfection and the lyricism is strong, as LB coasts on songs like "Speed", "Whatever You Say", "Shorty On The Lookout", and many more. This is one of the most cohesive debut albums in the last 20 years of hip hop and Phonte couldn't have had a better start to his career than The Listening.

*The Foreign Exchange- Connected (2004)

-The first FE album is my favorite honestly and remains their best work. With more rap than singing here, it feels more like a Phonte solo rap album than an actual FE project, or at least, in retrospect it does. For me, my favorite part about this album is that Phonte steps outside the box Little Brother was in with their first album and with Nicolay by his side, he gives us an entire different style than we would have expected. Creatively speaking, Connected is an amazing piece of work, with tracks like "Brave New World", "Sincere", "Raw Life", "Happiness", and more driving home the direction of FE. Connected is another classic under Phonte's belt and it's one of the strongest projects in his catalog for sure. Perhaps top 3.

*Little Brother- Chiltin Circuit (2004)

-A collection of tracks and singles from the group that shocked the world with The Listening, this is a very solid from top to bottom. More of a collection than a true mixtape, this project features Kanye West and Consequence, as well as production from Pete Rock. Tracks like "Sinners", "Starship", "Shake It", "What You Do", and "I See Now" are all top notch LB songs and this at least satisfies the fans and their appetite for more music from Little Brother.

*Little Brother- Chitlin Circuit 1.5 (2005)

-This was like an appetizer for the world in terms of what to expect on The Minstrel Show and it felt more like an updated re-release of the first edition than a brand new project. While some of the same songs from the first Chitlin Circuit are featured here, the group brings a few new songs like "The Honorable", "War", "The Beginning", "Ladies Jam", and my personal favorite "Nobody Like Me". There isn't much to say about this one, as it is just an expanded edition of the first one, but all of the newer songs are great and make this a solid release anyway.

*Little Brother- The Minstrel Show (2005)

-The pinnacle of the Little Brother experience in hip hop. This is the best album that Phonte has taken part in and it is my personal favorite, and a possible top 5 album of all time in hip hop IMO. With 9th Wonder handling the production duties, the sound was amazing and Pooh and Phonte didn't disappoint. I discussed this album as well in the 9th article recently so I won't go into detail too much, but there aren't many albums that have songs on the level of "Not Enough", "Slow It Down", and "All For You", which are three of the greatest LB songs and some all time gems in hip hop. The Minstrel Show changed the game of underground hip hop and despite the album not being commercially successful, it's one of the greatest albums of that decade and a true classic in the genre.

*Little Brother- Separate But Equal (2006)

-Years ago, Gangsta Grillz was the mixtape series that we all loved. We saw some of the biggest southern artists utilize DJ Drama and his platform to get a bigger audience and Little Brother would bless Drama with quite possibly his best edition (top 5 IMO), and of course, this mixtape would follow the disappointing sales of The Minstrel Show. One has to wonder what would have occurred if the group had put this out before The Minstrel Show, but regardless this is a classic mixtape. With features from Mos Def and Bun B being notable, LB delivers with songs like "Let It Go", "Candy", "Cross That Line", and the all time classic "Boondock Saints". Separate But Equal is my second favorite Gangsta Grillz (Dedication 2 is no. 1) and this shows that LB can branch out a little and still shine just as bright as they did on their classic albums.

*Little Brother- And Justus For All (2007)

-One of their few mixtapes came before the infamous Getback album and this is on par with Separate But Equal despite not being as good. The production is what you would expect, with soulful instrumentals laying the foundation for excellent rhymes from Pooh and Phonte, on tracks like "Can't Stop Us" (which is a favorite of mine), "Never Leave", "Last Day", and "Delusional". The mixtape also features some of their guest appearances through the last year or so. There are two versions of this project, one with DJ Mick Boogie and one that features less of the DJ tags, so if you want to listen to this, try and find the one without Mick Boogie.

*Little Brother- Getback (2007)

-While this album in a way seemed to spell the end before it officially came, it was actually a great project that just had a different vibe from what we were used to from the dynamic duo of Pooh and Phonte. 9th had departed from the group and as a result, they would look to different producers for the music, yet it all worked out. Features included Lil Wayne and Dion, while heavy hitters like Hi-Tek, Mr. Porter, and others provide the sound. The best tracks on this album are "Sirens", "Step It Up", "Dreams", and the final song "When Everything Is New". Is Getback on the level of their first two classics? No, but as a standalone album, it is damn good.

*Zo and Tigallo- Love The 80's (2008)

-This was a hilarious EP project. More of a cover album than an actual album, this project features mostly vocals from Phonte as he takes on some older classics from the 80's. Included here are A-Ha's "Take On Me", The Rude Boys classic "Written All Over Your Face", and more. In essence, this is more of a Foreign Exchange style project than anything, but it works. I found myself revisiting this EP recently and I actually think I prefer the Zo and Tigallo version of "Written All Over Your Face" to the original, or at least it's on par with it. That says enough about the surprising quality of this project.

*The Foreign Exchange- Leave It All Behind (2008)

-I debate between this album and Connected as the best FE project, but they are truly the best two in their catalog. This was the album that got me through late 2008 and 2009, which was a tough time personally. The mellow vibe and soulful sound is executed perfectly here, and unlike Connected, this album focuses much more on the soul singing than rapping. The result gives us some of the best music from FE like "Daykeeper", "Take Off The Blues", "Something To Behold", and "All Or Nothing/Coming Home To You". I have found FE albums to be great musical therapy and this is their best work in that regard and you could argue their best work period (and 2nd best work at the very least).

*Little Brother- Leftback (2010)

-A bittersweet end for one of my favorite all time groups, Leftback is one of those albums that catches you off guard in the sense that it is a solid project, but well below the standards of previous LB albums. With a bulk of the production handled by Khyrsis, we do get a few gems like "Curtain Call", "Second Chances", "Table For Two", and "Tigallo For Dolo", but there is something missing here. Perhaps it is the chemistry that came with their previous records, but this album just feels like it was put together rather than an actual album going through the normal process. Still, Little Brother is so good that even an album that seems thrown together is better than most.

*The Foreign Exchange- Authenticity (2010)

-This is actually my least favorite FE album, but I don't dislike it at all. It's almost akin to listening to all of your favorite albums and having to rank them from the best to worst. If I'm doing that with FE, then Authenticity is the one that doesn't do it for me. Still, that aside, it is a solid listen, but carries a slightly darker vibe than the previous projects, which is perhaps why I'm not as fond of it. However, tracks like "Maybe She'll Dream Of Me", "The Last Fall", and "All Roads" are wonderful listens and upon my revisit of the album, it actually sounded better than I remembered it being. That is a testament in itself to the greatness of FE, but also Phonte in general.

*Charity Starts At Home (2011)

-The long awaited solo release came and instantly became a favorite to me. I had been waiting for a Phonte solo album and I knew what he was capable of, and Charity Starts At Home doesn't disappoint at all. With production from 9th Wonder (reunited), Swiff D, Khyrsis, and more alongside quality features from Elzhi, Evidence, Pharoahe Monch, and Big K.R.I.T., Phonte delivers the album of the year with some of the most honest mature songs in hip hop like "The Good Fight", "Everything Is Falling Down, and "Ball And Chain", while also showcasing that he's one of the best pure lyricists on tracks like "The Life Of Kings", "Dance In The Reign", and "Not Here Anymore". All in all, this album shows us what we already knew: Phonte is a legend and one of the best to do it (I'll keep reminding you of this).

*The Foreign Exchange- Love In Flying Colors (2013)

-At one point, it seemed as if Foreign Exchange had become the premier duo in music. While many are sleep on their talent and impact as a duo, their contributions to the R&B soul genre are almost flawless. This album continues the trend, as the duo bring more of their signature sound with a few added elements. This results in gems like "Dreams Are Made For Two", "Can't Turn Around", "When I Feel Love", and more. Simply put, FE can really do no wrong and this album is just another notch in their belt of consistency.

*The Foreign Exchange- Tales From The Land Of Milk And Honey (2015)

-I appreciate this album more as the days go by. Initially, I wasn't sold on the single, the tongue in cheek "Asking For A Friend", which takes house music and blends it with the FE style, but the video is what made me appreciate it a bit more. Aside from that one moment of confusion on the album, there are amazing songs like "Disappear", "Body", "Face In The Reflection", and more. This isn't the best FE album, but it is a damn good listen from start to finish with only a few minor mishaps.

*Tigallero w/ Eric Roberson (2016)

-When this album released, it caught me by surprise. A joint album featuring two solid talents would turn out to be even better than I expected with a mellow vibe throughout. One thing that Phonte does better than anyone else is make grown man hip hop that touches on real true to life topics, and that's what makes him so special as an artist. Before the mainstream legends dropped an album or two in a mature sense, Phonte had been doing it since he stepped on the scene. Alongside Eric Roberson, who is a talented vocalist, they bring a new wave of hip hop soul romance music, with tracks like "My Kind Of Lady", "Grow This Love", and others really setting the tone. It was quite possibly the most underrated album of 2016 and one of my favorites of that year.

*No News Is Good News (2018)

-While this album is merely a day or two old, it is a very enjoyable project from start to finish. The sound is more so Foreign Exchange in production than the Charity Starts At Home solo that he released years prior, but the music here is excellent. Phonte hasn't lost a step as a lyricist and this album proves his standing as one of the greatest to do it. The album reaches the peak at one of his realest songs, the honest and raw "Cry No More", which is my favorite from the album. Other tracks like "So Help Me God", "Pastor Tigallo", and "Such Is Life" really showcase him at his very best. While No News Is Good News isn't better than Charity Starts At Home, it is a great addition to quite possibly one of the greatest discographies ever from a hip hop artist.


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