When Everything is New
Phonte is rap’s spokesman online, blending the truth with a healthy dose of humor mixed in.
When we think of artists with the penchant to rap, sing, act, or maybe even write and direct television skits, a few names come to mind. Rappers.
Then there’s another list of rappers who use their voices to educate and inform others. People whose tweets alone influence pop culture. People like Phonte Coleman.
A random scroll of his timeline reveals his thoughts on everything from Smokey Robinson and the newest Verzuz battle, to more complex issues like police brutality, record label dynamics and social media’s evolution. His page is one of the few places where you can get a nuanced take on rap mixed with overly healthy doses of comedy in.
He’s influenced your favorite artists like Drake and gave us material we can laugh and critique, but isn’t credited for the role he’s played in shaping rap music over the last decade. Joe Budden. Rap Veterans.
Phonte and his crew were not only the first rappers to achieve success off the internet, but he’s one of the first rappers to use their online personality to extend his musical career.
Introduction to the World
Roughly seventeen years ago when Questlove established OkayPlayer, Little Brother’s debut album, The Listening, made its way on the platform and launched their careers. A hub for rap heads, the message forum on OkayPlayer was Twitter before such a thing existed. Phonte and his crew frequented the site, expressing their views on any and everything Hip-Hop. After uploading one of their songs online, they became one of the first rap groups to garner a record deal from the internet. Phonte summed up their start, stating in his own words, “I guess we were like the Tila Tequila of OkayPlayer.” Phonte Interview with Red Bull. Tequila used her stardom on MySpace to launch her career and Phonte and Little Brother used OkayPlayer to land a record deal.
We’re used to rappers blowing up off the internet now from Soulja Boy in 2007 to Lil Nas X in 2018, but before Little Brother it wasn’t conceivable. Before Soulja Boy introduced us to the power of the internet with Myspace and YouTube, Phonte and company did it first. It wouldn’t be the first time Phonte introduced fresh energy to the game, though.
Social Media Splash
From OkayPlayer came Myspace. Artists like Ryan Leslie, Drake, and Soulja Boy used the site to promote their music, but Phonte flipped the paradigm, becoming popular for his opinions on blogs and pods. Rappers like Phonte, Rhymefest, Lupe Fiasco, Joe Budden, and the late great Prodigy led the way for rappers making a name for themselves digitally before achieving commercial success and laid the blueprint for later artists who’d do the same later. Prodigy Was Ahead of His Time.
Using the group’s blog, Phonte spoke on any and everything controversial, entertaining and infuriating people all in one. “Personality goes a long way. A little well-placed snark and humor can help people see you in a new light — it shows you are capable of critical thought and enjoy spending time among the commoners in the peanut gallery.” On Charles Hamilton, Joe Budden, Asher Roth, and the Perils of Internet Oversharing. Out of all the rappers known for blogging online at that time, from Lupe Fiasco to Prodigy, Phonte was the most versatile. He gave you it all from political commentary to satire.
In 2008, Phonte and DJ Brainchild started their own podcast, The Gordon Gartrell Radio show, and continued their irreverent brand of comedy. The Gordon Gartrell Radio Show.
The show focused on rap and politics and was one of the earliest rap podcasts in the 2000s before The Combat Jack Show and others came on the scene. Channeling his inner Percy Miracles, his show covered topics like porn, the presidency, Chris Brown and Rihana, and education. Phonte was rap’s Dave Chappelle before there was a Dave Chappelle Show, injecting controversial quotables into our collective psyche the way Chappelle did with his groundbreaking show.
Enter new Tigallo, the rap spokesman of the 2010 decade.
Still, Tay’s opinion on issues has always unified and polarized rap fans. Though he generated a lot of laughs online, he generated an equal amount of anger and criticism.
In 2006, Phonte experienced two major crises, one with female rapper Eternia and another with XXL blogger Noz. First, Phonte made a misogynistic comment towards the female rapper Eternia on MySpace and both fans and critics alike publicly condemned Phonte. That same year he stated that fans at the Fayetteville Summer Concert weren’t jamming to the group’s music, which made him wonder “if my music is that ‘intelligent’ or are niggas just that dumb?” Etherfest 2006.
Today, few people remember the ordeals and it is safe to say his career didn’t suffer tremendously because of them. But the backlash he suffered was one of the earliest examples of “cancel culture” appearing on the scene. Phonte opened himself up to public scrutiny online in a way that we now associate with people like Kanye West, Azealia Banks and 50 Cent. His blog was a rap diary for fans and critics alike before it was the norm.
But Phonte has done more digitally than caused us to laugh or frown. Despite it all, Phonte’s insight and analysis are what he’s become most known for. One of rap’s earliest Twitter scholars, he broke down hip-hop in a way few had thought to. Before sites flocked to write think pieces, Phonte dropped them using 140 characters online. For example, his 2013 viral tweets comparing various rappers to the greatest television shows came years before shows like Everyday Struggle existed and before podcasts like The Joe Budden Show came to be. Rap Draft. He recreated the tweet in an interview with the Washington Post. Washington Post.
Phonte stands out as one of the bravest and most intelligent rap spokesmen. His analysis of rap culture solidifies his role as a scholar and thinker much in the way 9th Wonder, Questlove and Bun B are.