Praised for his efforts as a member of groups Little Brother and The Foreign Exchange, Phonte gets the solo shine that many have been waiting nearly a decade to hear on Charity Starts At Home.

Before jumping into the album’s first verse, Phonte begins the offering’s opener talking, promising, “I do this all for hip-hop!” before pausing and dismissing that thought, saying, “I’m lying like shit. I do this shit for my goddamn mortgage, nigga. For my bills.” This sort of grown man, 9-to-5 approach has gained the North Carolina spitter legions of loyal listeners through the years, and it’s the relatable outlook that persists on this album.

That opener, “Dance In The Reign,” is a potent lyrical display of Tigallo’s talents and creativity. At one point in a four minute string of quotables, he kicks, “I’m still top-notch/You niggas is better off playin’ hop scotch in a mine field/Better off warring in the jungle with no camouflaging/Suicide mission/Straight sabotaging/Flow so addictive, it’s like habit forming/Flow hair raising, it’s like rabbit farming.”

“The Good Fight” is an everyman anthem, a stirring attempt to contextualize the worker's struggle in today’s suffering economy (“Everybody prays for the day they see the light/But the light at the end of the tunnel is a train/Five dollar gas and poverty rates, are rising much higher than your hourly rate/So if you thinkin’ ‘bout quiting, you should probably wait/Cause everybody gotta do a fuckin’ job that they hate”). Phonte later reveals further sides of introspection (“Everything Is Falling Down”), and storytelling (“Sendin My Love”).

The guest spots on the project are well selected and equally well executed. With each artist ensuring not to get outdone by their track-mate, collaborations with Elzhi (“Not Here Anymore”), Pharoahe Monch (“We Go Off”) and Evidence and Big K.R.I.T. (“The Life of Kings”) result in outstanding outputs.

Another collaboration that stands out is Tay’s reunion with producer and former group mate 9th Wonder. With their issues now behind them, the two got together for four of the project’s 12 tracks, each one reminiscent of LB’s heyday without feeling like a reach for the past. The result is a sonically soulful backdrop threaded throughout.

“Still the underground king, nigga, dance in the reign,” Phonte spits on the first track. Undeniably, Charity Starts At Home reminds why the rapper has been a darling of the underground for years. —Adam Fleischer

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