“I want to dedicate this award to Kanye West, Andre 3000, and Phonte of Little Brother.” Drake, after receiving his BMI Songwriter of the Year Award in 2011
For casual hip-hop and music fans, recognizing the names and accomplishments of two of the three men mentioned above would be relatively easy. The last name, however, would be a struggle. Phonte Coleman is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper and yet he has been commercially ignored for quite some time. Highly acclaimed, versatile, and skilled, his lyrical ability and subject have allowed him to cover everything from married life to career and commercial strife. A gifted MC, he’s more recognized for his singing nowadays. Serving as half of the duo, the Foreign Exchange, both he and Nicolay, a Dutch producer, brought a blend of rap and jazz to the music scene. He gained notoriety, however, for being a part of the trio, Little Brother, a partnership comprising Rapper Big Pooh and producer 9th Wonder. Their debut album, The Listening, and subsequent album, The Minstrel Show, were praised in hip-hop as classic works of art. Phonte garnered the same attention as Q-Tip did in ATQ and was recognized as the premier emcee.
As gifted as he is an emcee, his commentary on social issues is an often ignored asset. Look up his analysis of the greatest rappers and his comparison to the greatest television shows ever made.
I rest my case. Despite all his ability, one has to ask why and how has he remained an unsung hero? How is praising him going to affect his legacy? To those people, I offer these 3 things.
“Phonte, from a musical standpoint, is one of the most gifted people I have ever met. He is one of the greatest MC’s to ever live. Without Phonte, there would be no Drake. I can honestly 100% say that. And Drake knows that too.”
9th Wonder is a Grammy-award winning producer from North Carolina. He began his career working with Little Brother and created for musical legends such as Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, and Destiny’s Child. He teaches a course on hip-hop at North Carolina Central University but also teaches at two other universities as well (Harvard University included). 9th knows hip-hop. 9th has had the chance to work with arguably the greatest rapper ever, Jay-Z, on the Black Album, and still feels as if Phonte is one of the greatest to do it. Fast forward to 23:45.
“What up Lil Bro? What Up Slum Vill? I hope y’all know that y’all the reason I have fun still.” Drake, Fear
The history of collaborations between Drake and Little Brother stems back. They first collaborated on Drake’s second project, Comeback Season, on the song Think Good Thoughts, and Don’t You Have a Man. One of the standout records on the album Think Good Thoughts, helped showcase Drake’s lyrical prowess and Phonte’s. Drake’s content on the song plays on the materialism and images that follow rappers, embracing a more “conscious” message. Drake’s reference to Phonte’s influence in interviews and even to how he identified himself as a “backpacker rapper” shows how much Phonte’s career influenced. As insightful as Drake is on this track, Phonte drops some bars that show his true range. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to it yourself.
“He knows he’s one of the biggest influences on my career.” Drake
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Around the time of Drake’s second album, Take Care, he discussed returning the favor and appearing on Phonte’s debut album, Charity Starts At Home. Consumed at the time with perfecting his own album, he never got around to making the record. The album went on to receive rave reviews from publications like Metacritic, XXL, and Okayplayer all giving it high markings. It was a classic so to speak, but without the notable features and exposure, it remained largely unknown. Phonte’s disappointment at not receiving a verse was apparent in a subsequent interview he did with the Source Magazine following the BMI Award.
“I saw that he dedicated his BMI award to me and while that was a very noble and thoughtful gesture, I’d much rather he had dedicated himself to finishing a verse for one of me and 9th’s songs. That, to me, seems like a more tangible way of showing gratitude. But with that said, I’m still a fan and I think he’s an incredibly talented artist. When Take Care drops, he’s got my money.” Drake owned up to the moment, stating that he,” dropped the ball on a feature.”
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This past August, Little Brother alum Phonte aired out his grievances with The Source over Drake snubbing him a…
Despite it all, Phonte has kept making music at a high quality. His most recent rap album, No News is Good News, was released in 2018 to high praise, with some saying it was an album of the year contender. Following NNGN, Phonte dropped the Pacific Time EP, on his Foreign Exchange label. In the words of Phonte,
“ This rap shit is not the life I live
It’s a tool that I use, that’s it
No great fortune to show for it but fortunate
That no one can say his life ain’t his
Some might even say underachiever cause they are not believers
That I don’t want the world, but I done seen the world
And if you ever saw it, hell, you wouldn’t want it either
I don’t need a kingdom, just want a home
You can take a seat or you can take the throne
As long as it is known ain’t a damn thing changed
Still the underground king, nigga dance in the reign.”