Authenticity The Foreign Exchange
It takes courage to reinvent yourself as a silky soul crooner after developing a hard-earned reputation as one of the most insightful, funny, gifted rappers around, but former Little Brother frontman Phonte has never lacked chutzpah or ambition. The Grammy-nominated renaissance man’s first collaborative album with producer Nicolay, Connected, joined the hip-hop boom-bap of Little Brother with shimmering electronic soul. Its follow-up, the aptly named Leave It All Behind, all but abandoned rap, as does the duo’s assured new Authenticity, a warm, comforting security blanket of an album. It’s a work of hushed intimacy and unabashed romanticism that uses synthesizers to create incongruously organic, natural-sounding grown-folks R&B. The disc sometimes feels like one long, hypnotic, deeply soothing groove separated into tracks, but the sprightly “Maybe She’ll Dream of Me,” which features Phonte’s sole rap on Authenticity, feels like a hit single from an alternate universe where pop music is a meritocracy instead of a rigged game. Phonte exposes his soul in song after song; like a bona fide soulman, he’s fearless about broadcasting his softness and vulnerability. Thankfully, he’s now in a gentler R&B realm that, unlike hip-hop, sees those qualities as strengths rather than weaknesses.